One of the global hotspots for chameleon diversity is located in the Eastern Arc Mountains and Southern Highlands in Tanzania. For long I have been wanting to visit, but the huge amount of species and the difficulty of traveling there always made me put this trip on hold. There is just too much to see and I didn't really know where to begin. Moreover, due to the huge diversity, this is not the kind of place you spend a mere two weeks in. My longer trips are restricted to the summer months, which is the worst time to travel to East Africa as it can get crowded in some places and the rainy seasons are over. I had been gathering information for some time though, and when my request for an extra week of leave in December was granted, this trip finally became within the realms of possibility.
I chose to go at the end of December because the short rainy season in the north has usually arrived at this time, while in the south there is a single rainy season which is starting in December. We were in luck with the rains and at each location we had some dry periods to make the traveling and herping more easy-going, but we also had quite some heavy rain showers to stir animal life.
Besides the usual suspects such as Sander, Laura and myself we had company from Sweden. I invited Die Hard herping Force Majeure and (In)glorious Bastards Didrik and Otto Claesson to complete our Fellowship and go Into the Wild. During a chance encounter in Greece we met and now we were bound for Tanzania. I also asked local safari guide Emanuel Samson to join us, his knowledge of arranging permits and his local contacts were vital for organizing this trip. Our route was highly ambitious, and led us past many biodiversity hotspots covering the whole country from north to south. However, this meant that distances between locations were not little. For that reason we also brought expert driver Martin Gidawida on board, completing our team of 7 people.
All images © Laura & Bobby Bok (unless stated otherwise)
Once upon a time at Schiphol things went rather smooth for a change. Sander and I had to wait long in all the queues, but we arrived on time at Istanbul, where Laura was already waiting. from there we took an overnight flight to Dar es Salaam, where we landed before sunrise. Emanuel and Martin were already waiting for us and when the sun came out above the horizon we arrived at the hotel of Didrik and Otto. We had a proper breakfast and photographed the first herps of the trip. Several Yellow-headed Dwarf Geckos (Lygodactylus picturatus) were seen on big trees in the garden of the hotel.
18th until the 20th of December 2022
The road was long and full of terrors. First of all as the AC of the car was not working. Sitting in a car with 7 people where only the two front windows can be opened while the tropical sun is beating down on the roof was no fun. Moreover the road was blocked for an hour as the president had to make use of it. All traffic was redirected and we were instructed to wait for the president to pass us. It was a good taste of how the driving in this country would be. Always much, MUCH longer than you think with hidden surprises everywhere.
But Hakuna Matata, in the afternoon we arrived at the Kimboza Forest Reserve. We unpacked the car, freshened up a bit and went straight for the forest with ranger Jeremiah. Our main target for this forest was the Turquoise Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi), which can only be found in this tiny forest and a few small adjacent forest pockets. The species is suffering from the illegal pet trade, habitat loss and invasive plants. These tiny blue geckos seem to be largely restricted to Pandanus palms and during our late afternoon hike we scanned the long palm fronds for tiny blue creatures. It didn't take long until I spotted the first gecko after which we saw several more. Crazy to see lizards with this vibrant blue colouration, it makes them almost look fake! The next day we had a Blue Monday and we got to see many more of them. Stricter law enforcement in recent times seems to have boosted their numbers. In addition to the blue geckos of Kimboza, there was another small arboreal lizard I was keen on seeing. After scanning trees one afternoon, I finally saw an Eastern Sawtail Tree Lizard (Holaspis laevis) foraging. Really skittish lizards, but great fun to observe.
Night time was of course no less exciting in these forests. After dinner we played a local game called Mipira ya Paka before we were herping again. Close to water we found many amphibians such as Xenopus muelleri, Xenopus victorianus, Leptopelis flavomaculatus, Amietia tenuoplicata, Phrynobatrachus mababiensis and Ptychadena anchietae. Didrik spotted two Usambara Vine Snakes (Thelotornis usambaricus) resting in the vegetation, while I found two Slender Burrowing Asps (Atractaspis aterrima) foraging. It took a while before we spotted the first chameleons, but close inspection of low vegetation revealed many Bearded Pygmy Chameleons (Rieppeleon brevicaudatus), while Laura discovered a Magombera Forest Chameleon (Kinyongia magomberae) female high up in the trees. Quite strange to find this range restricted species here... Other species we found at Kimboza were Mertensophryne taitana, Nectophrynoides tornieri, Ancylodactylus barbouri, Trachylepis varia, Hemidactylus platycephalus, Lygodactylus capensis, Lygodactylus picturatus and a big Broadleysaurus major next to the road. Also mammals were abundant and we saw Woodland Dormouse (Graphiurus murinus), Lord Derby's Anomalure (Anomalurus derbianus), Rusty-spotted Genet (Genetta maculata), Eastern Tree Hyrax (Dendrohyrax validus) and Grant's Bushbaby (Paragalago granti).
20th until the 22nd of December 2022
Late in the morning we left for Mikumi National Park, the fourth largest National Park of Tanzania with many big mammals roaming its plains. The drive there was again arduous, with heavy traffic and endless queues of trucks. Police stops were also abundant, but luckily so was the wildlife during the last part of the drive. Even from the car we could already see some of the wildlife Africa is most famous for. And Martin had the AC fixed, so that was a sweet bonus.
Upon arrival at our accommodation, I had a swim in the pool as the temperatures here were soaring and the surroundings bone dry. After dinner we set out with two Masai whom we asked to bring us to places with residual water left. Already around the camp we found Schismaderma carens, Sclerophrys gutturalis, Sclerophrys pusilla, Hemidactylus angulatus, Hemidactylus mabouia, Leptotyphlops merkeri and during the second night even several Banded Rubber Frogs (Phrynomantis bifasciatus) emerging from piles of bricks and tree holes. At the small waterholes in the wooded savanna we found mostly Phrynobatrachus natalensis and Ptychadena anchietae but also Edible Bullfrogs (Pyxicephalus edulis) and Southern Foam-nest Frogs (Chiromantis xerampelina), a species that was also very abundant in parasols around the camp. The highlight was seeing a big green Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) high up in a tree. On the first night it eascaped, but on the second night we managed to catch it so we could have a close look at this beautiful, calm but deadly venomous snake.
The next day Sander, Laura and I went on a game drive to explore the park a bit more. We had a safari vehicle all to ourselves and an enthusiastic guide who was very accommodating to us herpers. We saw great concentrations of mammals such as Plains Zebra (Equus quagga), Wildebeest (Connochaetus taurinus), Impala (Aepyceros melampus) and Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), but also Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus), Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), Elandantilope (Tragelaphus oryx) and Masai Giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi). The big predators were not far away and we spotted a Leopard (Panthera pardus), a group of Lions (Panthera leo) and two Spotted Hyena's (Crocuta crocuta). At the waterholes we observed herds of several animals stopping for a drink, of which Elephants (Loxodonta africana) are always the highlight. Hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) were relaxing in the mud, while all sorts of birds were foraging for food and Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) were foraging for birds. My favorite birds were the Southern Ground Hornbills (Bucorvus leadbeateri) and Openbill Storks (Anastomus lamelligerus). After lunch we saw a small Nile Monitor Lizard (Varanus niloticus) crossing the tracks, which was fun to photograph in the middle of a big herd of Buffalo... However, the highlight of the game drive was when our guide got a call from one of his colleagues. They told him a big python was spotted. The call came when we were actually already past our allotted time in the park, so we might have done a little speeding to reach it as soon as possible. When we approached the spot I had a hard time processing what I was seeing: there it was, a massive Rock Python (Python sebae) of 5 meters in length, just basking outside its burrow - what a sight! Obviously, this snake has led a hard life, as it had quite a few scars. But what a beauty it was! The afternoon we spent around the pool to relax a bit and photograph some diurnal reptiles, such as Trachylepis striata and Agama mossambica.
22nd until the 25th of December 2022
Somewhere along the way we spotted some very brightly coloured, but very shy Dodoma Rock Agamas (Agama dodomae) from the car and found a Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer) as well. Late in the afternoon we finally arrived at our next location.
Mufindi means "place with many barriers" in Swahili. When we were driving towards our accomodation, we already met many security guards and had to stop at every barrier. The silly rules and the people that follow them would be a source of frustration throughout our stay in this area. The best example was when we were just about to set out from our guesthouse towards the restaurant where we had already pre-ordered our dinner to be ready upon arrival. Of course, there was a barrier with a guard between the guesthouse and the restaurant, a distance of maybe 2km. The barrier remained closed and we had to honk to lure the guard outside. According to him, there was a "weather alert" and nobody was allowed to move until it was over - which was not determined at that time. We looked at the sky, which was overcast with a bit of rain coming down, but we didn't see any signs of storm or thunder. The guard kept repeating there was a weather alert and did not let us pass. He went back inside, sat on his chair and watched on, while we grew ever more frustrated. What a Kuk... There was nothing we could do, so we went back to the guesthouse. Luckily Laura and I had some emergency lentil stew from Germany and Didrik and Otto had brought Glögg so we made our own dinner - if life gives you weather alerts, you make lentil soup. Just a pity for 7 hot pizzas which were waiting for us at the restaurant!
Also getting permission to search the forest reserves in the area was a fight against bureaucracy. We wasted quite some time waiting for permissions, which sometimes never came. Luckily the forests around the guesthouse yielded some target species such as the beautiful Udzungwa Double-bearded Chameleon (Trioceros tempeli), Werner's Three-horned Chameleon (Trioceros werneri) and Tornier's Cat Snake (Crotaphopeltis tornieri). But despite intense searching in suitable habitat we sadly couldn't find our main target: the Spiny-flanked Chameleon. We can only speculate why we didn't find this species, as they seem more abundant in other seasons. Maybe it was due to the sometimes heavy downpours we received during our stay.
On our last day in the area we decided to drive quite a bit to the east to another forest we wanted to visit. This time, instead of asking permission via the phone, we decided to just show up in person. Maybe it would be a bit harder to deny us then. When we arrived we felt a bit underdressed. It was a very posh estate, with people sipping wine and riding horses, whereas we came in with rubber boots and snake hooks. The owner told us it was no problem to herp on his property, but we couldn't eat inside in the restaurant as there was no space. Very much in the spirit of Christmas Eve we were allowed to eat our own dinner in the stables along with the sheep. After some amazing PB & J sandwiches it got dark and the rain stopped. There was a huge chorus of Afrixalus quadrivittatus, Hyperolius viridiflavus and Kassina senegalensis calling and the sound was deafening. These frogs attract of course snakes and we found another Crotaphopeltis tornieri and an Angola Green Snake (Philothamnus angolensis) in the reeds. Didrik and Otto already found two Usambara Bush Vipers (Atheris ceratophora) during the day but they found an additional individual at night. Stunning little vipers and a very nice Christmas present! Also for chameleons these woods were interesting and we found more Trioceros tempeli. Otto spotted a big male Trioceros werneri and we saw several Udzungwa Pygmy Chameleons (Rhampholeon moyeri). That was a Christmas Eve to never forget!
25th until the 27th of December 2022
With an altitude of close to 3000m absl, Mount Rungwe is one of Tanzanias highest peaks. This dormant volcano has the highest rainfall of the entire country and also during our stay we would not stay dry. We were actually supposed to stay in tents inside the forest, but luckily this plan was aborted quickly due to the heavy rainfall and we got to stay inside the ranger station. After settling in upon arrival late in the afternoon we had a small stroll in the forest at sunset, and immediately found many Nchisi Pygmy Chameleons (Rhampholeon nchisiensis). Also during the next two night excursions we would see many more of this species, sleeping in the vegetation up to 5 meters high.
There are quite some interesting amphibians in these woods, but despite the rain we didn't get to see many of them. Squeakers such as Reiche's Squeaker (Arthroleptis reichei), Long-fingered Squeaker (Arthroleptis stenodactylus) and Dwarf Squeaker (Arthroleptis xenodactyloides) were rather common though, and near water we saw Amani River Frogs (Amietia tenuoplicata). The amphibian highlight was found by Emanuel. A Wide-headed Tree Frog (Leptopelis grandiceps) was truly an exceptional amphibian.
On our first morning we searched the forest edges for reptiles. There was quite some rain the night before and there was still a drizzle coming down while we were searching. One of the rangers had seen a very special viper the week before, and that was our main target for this area. With high hopes, we climbed up and down the steep volcanic slopes and scanned the vegetation. Luck was on our side, and we couldn't believe our eyes when there was a big and brightly coloured Mount Rungwe Bush Viper (Atheris rungweensis) resting in the vegetation! Luckily the rain stopped shortly after, and we could photograph and admire this stunning animal a bit more before releasing it in the same bush.
That same night we were on the hunt for amphibians and especially chameleons. Most of the chameleons on Mount Rungwe are known only from the higher elevations so we decided to start the hike early, get to the proper altitude and search on the way down. The rain was coming down heavy though, and while hiking up it only got worse and worse. While the others decided to return to the accommodation, Laura and I continued to climb up to 2100m absl. On our way down the heavy rain and dense fog limited our searching, but finally I spotted an Ukinga Hornless Chameleon (Trioceros incornutus) sleeping high in a tree. With umbrellas protecting the camera we could make some quick pictures before we also made it back to the camp.
The second and last morning we searched for the endemic Kipunji, but only saw Blue Monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis), Angola Colobus (Colobus angolensis) and a Forest Marsh Snake (Natriciteres sylvatica), which was crossing the path. Back in town we were waiting next to the road when Laura spotted not one, but two stunning Flap-necked Chameleons (Chamaeleo dilepis) on the other side of the road, as they fell out of a bush (this is not code for anything, this really happened).
27th until the 29th of December 2022
After what must have been by far the shortest drive of the trip (only three hours), we arrived in the afternoon at the shores of Lake Malawi, or Lake Nyasa as it is more commonly known in Tanzania. The Floodplain Viper (Proatheris superciliaris) can be found all around this massive waterbody, but scientific records from Tanzania are sparse, and in the last 50 years non-existent. We didn't really expect to find it, but wanted to give it a try nevertheless. During the day we scanned for suitable habitat and asked locals if they knew this snake. According to most local people every snake we pointed out in our book occurs around Lake Malawi. Although much suitable habitat has been altered, we still did some roadcruising and searched at suitable places on foot - all in vain, sadly.
We still enjoyed our time at Lake Malawi: On the first night there was a massive thunderstorm rolling in from the south. All the floodplains (as well as our rubber boots) were filling up and the sky was filled with lightning. Although the amphibians were going crazy, it wasn't the safest place to be and we aborted our mission. On the second night there was no thunder luckily, so it was much safer to herp and go deeper into the swamps where hippos were calling from between the papyrus. We saw many amphibian species such as Xenopus muelleri, Sclerophrys gutturalis, Afrixalus fornasini, Leptopelis flavomaculatus, Hyperolius glandicolor, Hyperolius mitchelli, Arthroleptis stenodactylus, Phrynobatrachus natalensis, Ptychadena anchietae and Ptychadena nilotica. Well hidden between the grass we saw several Marbled Piglet Frogs (Hemisus marmoratus) while Water Lily Reed Frogs (Hyperolius pusillus) were calling from water lilies, just as their name suggests. With so many amphibians around, there are of course also predators in the vicinity. On dry land we found White-lipped Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) on the prowl. At the edge of the papyrus swamp we found Whyte's Water Snake (Lycodonomorphus whytii) whereas Olive Marsh Snake (Natriciteres olivacea) was found in more temporary situations. Finally we also spotted sleeping baby Varanus niloticus, Philothamnus heterolepidotus and Chamaeleo dilepis in the reeds and saw Serrated Hinged Terrapin (Pelusios sinuatus) foraging in shallow water.
We also allowed ourselves some relaxation and in the afternoon Sander and I had a swim in the lake. In 2015 we were swimming together on the southern end, but we both agreed that the northern shore looks much nicer and cleaner. The trees behind the beach are home to some blue diurnal lizards, and during a small stroll I spotted Yellow-headed Dwarf Gecko as well as a stunning male Southern Tree Agama (Acanthocercus gregorii).
29th until the 31st of December 2022
Because we saw the driving was so excruciatingly slow, we decided to adjust our schedule a bit. We actually planned on just spending one night at Morogoro, but we knew the drive from Lake Malawi to Morogoro would take us the whole day. So we decided for two nights to relax a bit in between two long driving days. That was a good decision as the drive from Lake Malawi eventually took more than 16 hours (!) of sitting in the car. We only stopped shortly for a Speke's Hinged Tortoise (Kinixys spekii) sitting on the road which Martin casually spotted while driving. We arrived in Morogoro well past sunset, but we found a place where we could stretch our legs and have some food. We ate a mediocre pizza and burgers with pink ketchup. Little did we know at that point that the findings in the garden would make up for all that - and how they did! High up in the trees we spotted two Giant One-horned Chameleons (Trioceros melleri) sleeping. These are my favourite chameleons and I saw them for the first time in Malawi. Seeing them in the wild once more was no less exciting!
The next morning we photographed them in daylight as well, and it was surreal to see these massive dragons just perched high up in a tree. In the afternoon we herped around a river and found Speke's Sand Lizard (Heliobolus spekii), Yellow-throated Plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus flavigularis) and Striped Skink (Trachylepis striata).
We had dinner at the Dragonaires where the pizza was served pretty hot... and a bit late... I think everybody enjoyed seeing me eat that. Due to our extra night in Morogoro we could check out a mango grove outside the city, where we searched for arboreal snakes. The risk of falling fruits was very real and we all got near hits with a mango. In the grove we immediately saw many mammals such as several Greater Galago (Otolemur crassicaudatus), Tree Civet (Nandinia binotata) and Epauletted Fruit Bats (Epomophorus). Snakes turned out to be plentiful as well, and we saw seven Speckled Green Snakes (Philothamnus punctatus) and two more Boomslangs. We were just about to leave when Sander spotted a Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps) high up in a tree. Attempts to retrieve the snake for a closer look failed, as the snake was simply to high up, but it was still very cool to see. Also many Flap-necked Chameleons were hiding in the vegetation and it was quite spectacular to see the abundance of wildlife in this place!
31st of December 2022 until the 4th of January 2023
The biodiversity of the East Usambara Mountains is legendary and can be partially explained due to their proximity to the coast, the high rainfall and connection(s) to other parts of the Eastern Arc Mountains in the past. No less than 9 chameleon species can be found here, which meant we could not visit Tanzania without having visited the Usambaras. On the last day of the year we arrived late in the afternoon at our accommodation. After dinner we went into the forest with local guide John. We soon spotted the first chameleons such as Flap-necked Chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis), Usambara Pitted Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon temporalis), Bearded Pygmy Chameleon (Rieppeleon brevicaudatus) and Usambara Three-horned Chameleon (Trioceros deremensis). It was surprising to see how relatively low the densities of Pygmy Chameleons are here in comparison to the other mountain ranges. The densities of Usambara Three-horned Chameleon were quite alright, but over the course of our stay we saw ±25 females/juveniles and not a single male. However, the highlights of the first evening were the amphibians. We saw our first Amani Warty Frogs (Callulina kreffti) lurking in the vegetation. Such cool frogs with grumpy snouts and the most perky frog butts. Deeper in the forest and off the trail we hit a tree frog hotspot. We saw several Spotted Spiny Reed Frogs (Afrixalus dorsimaculatus), Uluguru Tree Frogs (Leptopelis uluguruensis) and the highly anticipated but simply stunning Vermiculated Tree Frog (Leptopelis vermiculatus). Shortly to midnight we were still crawling through the dense undergrowth. A quick check on the GPS revealed that a lot of experience can still get you lost. We did the countdown to the New Year, said the cheers with a bottle of water and continued the crawl back into town. Luckily it wasn't far!
Over the course of the next three nights we got to see some of these species again but we always found something new as well. At the edge of a eucalyptus plantation we found some giant East Usambara Blade-horned Chameleons (Kinyongia matschiei) and John spotted a tiny Usambara Soft-horned Chameleon (Kinyongia tenuis) very high up in a tree. We saw many amphibians as well such as Xenopus borealis, Sclerophrys brauni, Afrixalus fornasini, Hyperolius rubrovermiculatus, Arthroleptis affinis, Arthroleptis xenodactylus and Phrynobatrachus kreffti. Geckos were also more common in these forests and we saw several Ancylodactylus africanus, Hemidactylus mabouia, Hemidactylus platycephalus and as a highlight an Uluguru Sucker-tailed Gecko (Urocotyledon wolterstorffi), a unique gecko with adhesive papillae at the tail tip. Snakes are as usual a little harder to come by, but we saw a small Cape Wolf Snake (Lycophidion capense) on the path and several Usambara Green Snakes (Philothamnus macrops) hanging in the vegetation. On the last night Didrik even found a fourth Usambara Bush Viper (Atheris ceratophora) and quite a differently coloured individual from the others we had seen. Henceforth he would be known as the Ceratophoramensch. On the way back to the lodge, Otto and I spotted two more Usambara Vine Snakes (Thelotornis usambaricus). One almost landed on my face somehow, but I still live to tell the tale.
During the day we found both endemic dwarf gecko species for this area, a Conradt's Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus conradti) on a treetrunk and an Usambara Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus gravis) on our porch. Speckle-lipped Skink (Trachylepis maculilabris) and Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia) were commonly seen along the road. It was surprisingly difficult to find agamas in this area. We already found some female Montane Rock Agamas (Agama montana) sleeping in ferns at night. But only on our last morning we saw a beautiful male basking on a tree. My favourite lizards, the Eastern Sawtail Tree Lizard (Holaspis laevis) were seen on two locations, but on both spots we saw three individuals. Near our lodge I flipped a Brown House Snake (Boaedon fuliginosus), while Laura spotted a big black Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) at the edge of a teafield. Also a local brought in another Philothamnus punctatus. The best snake we saw during the day was also not found by ourselves. Local guys knew we were looking for snakes and without really expecting to see this species on this trip, we were suddenly eye to eye with a beautiful Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica)!
4th until the 7th of January 2023
Chameleon diversity in larger and higher West Usambara Mountains is surprisingly lower than in their eastern counterpart. That said, the density of those few species can be much higher. The spectacular West Usambara Blade-horned Chameleon (Kinyongia multituberculata) turned out to be the most common chameleon of the trip and each one was more beautiful than the next. Another species of chameleon that occurs here has a broader range and can be found in both the Usambaras, but is seemingly more common in the west. That might be explained by the absence of other pygmy chameleons here, although it doesn't look much like its congeners. The Usambara Spiny Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon spinosus) is unlike any of the other pygmy chameleons with its goofy nose-flap, brightly coloured scales on the head and spikes on the tail. We found these chameleons perched on leaves or thin branches, but mostly in dense vegetation, sometimes as high as 5 meters above the ground. The frogs were also spectacular at this place with the pygmy chameleons. Laura spotted a Mazumbai Warty Frog (Callulina kisiwamsitu) and we saw several Spotted Spiny Reed Frogs (Afrixalus dorsimaculatus) and Parker's Tree Frogs (Leptopelis parkeri). We also saw Arthroleptis xenodactylus, Amietia tenuoplicata, Ancylodactylus africanus and Leptosiaphos kilimensis. We had a great place to stay in an old German colonial house with comfortable beds, warm water to shower, a hearth to warm up after a cold night in the forest and the most amazing food cooked by our chef Jimmy.
After two nights it was sadly already time to leave, although, in retrospective, we would have gladly spent our last night here as well. The final place of the trip didn't yield many highlights (except one) and we also found ourselves in some pretty disturbed habitat. We saw some more Amietia tenuoplicata, Kinyongia multituberculata and Philothamnus angolensis but not much else. However, we closed our time in Tanzania with a bang and, as last species of the trip, found a Banded Caecilian (Scolecomorphus vittatus) crawling through the grass.
7th until the 9th of January 2023
The journey home was not the smoothest one we ever had. On the 7th we were actually making good progress towards Dar es Salaam and even started thinking of trying to add some new species to our list within the city. But the moment we were getting close to Dar es Salaam that idea went up in flames. Traffic was slow-moving and all roads were clogged. By the time we arrived at the hotel we were pretty beat and had an early night. The next day we got up at 02:00 to be on the airport on time, only to find out that our flight to Istanbul was delayed, that we would miss our connection and that we had to spend an additional night in Istanbul. Of course the staff notified us after we checked in our bags... We slept a bit more at the airport (the benches were nicer than the bed in the last hotel) and flew to Istanbul. After another night in a hotel we could finally complete our journey and make it home.
What a trip... It is pretty hard to grasp the biodiversity of this country and see a wide range of habitats and animals during one trip. We had to make some hard choices and skip some hotspots of biodiversity in order to see others. Over time our hopes and wishes changed also quite a bit, but in the end we set a route that would take us from north to south, all across the Southern Highlands and the Eastern Arc Mountains and some beautiful places in between. We spent time in lowland swamps near Lake Malawi and the palm forests of Kimboza, we wandered through the highlands of Mount Rungwe and the Usambaras and got to see more species than we would have hoped. We got to see a massive python, boomslangs and vine snakes, species that always eluded me on previous trips to Africa, and on top of that a myriad of endemics including many chameleon species. Our list kept growing, and even on long days in the car we would always see a highlight before the day was over. The herping was simply overwhelming and it definitely tasted like more.
Our trip was highly ambitious and we have covered great distances. We vastly underestimated the driving times in this country and in hindsight we would have chosen a smaller route (although that would have meant skipping some places entirely, so maybe also not...). The driving at the two lane roads was slow. There is a speed limit of 80km/h which we could only rarely drive. Rather imagine vast queues of trucks going in both directions, sometimes driving between 10 - 30 km/h for hours. Whenever we had the opportunity to overtake, we were sure there was a police control ahead and pulling us aside, making us overtake all the trucks once more. The police stops were plentiful and a real nuisance. They always find something wrong with the car or they just stated we were speeding and needed to pay. This vastly hindered our progress on driving days. Another thing that slowed us down immensely was the bureaucracy in this country and the fact that you need a permit for every step you take. Emanuel was of great help there, but even with his contacts we simply weren't able to go everywhere we wanted to go. The lack of freedom to wander around by yourself was a nuisance from time to time. Sometimes we had several guides, local guides and local-local guides following us around, all needed to simply visit some places. Every herper knows how great it is to simply explore places by yourself and that was not always the case here.
That said, this trip was SUPERDUPER! All the hardships were well worth it and we will be back!
Banded Caecilian (Scolecomorphus vittatus)
Northern Clawed Frog (Xenopus borealis)
Müller's Clawed Frog (Xenopus muelleri)
Lake Victoria Clawed Frog (Xenopus victorianus)
Red Toad (Schismaderma carens)
Braun's Toad (Sclerophrys brauni)
Guttural Toad (Sclerophrys gutturalis)
Southern Flat-backed Toad (Sclerophrys pusilla)
Taita Forest Toad (Mertensophryne taitana)
Tornier's Viviparous Toad (Nectophrynoides tornieri)
Banded Rubber Frog (Phrynomantis bifasciatus)
Marbled Piglet Frog (Hemisus marmoratus)
Mazumbai Warty Frog (Callulina kisiwamsitu)
Amani Warty Frog (Callulina kreffti)
Senegal Running Frog (Kassina senegalensis)
Spotted Spiny Reed Frog (Afrixalus dorsimaculatus)
Fornasini's Spiny Reed Frog (Afrixalus fornasini)
Four-lined Spiny Reed Frog (Afrixalus quadrivittatus)
Peter's Reed Frog (Hyperolius glandicolor)
Mitchell's Reed frog (Hyperolius mitchelli)
Variable Reed Frog (Hyperolius pictus)
Water Lily Reed Frog (Hyperolius pusillus)
Red-lined Reed Frog (Hyperolius rubrovermiculatus)
Mainland Reed Frog (Hyperolius substriatus)
Common Reed Frog (Hyperolius viridiflavus)
Southern Foam-nest Frog (Chiromantis xerampelina)
Yellow-spotted Tree Frog (Leptopelis flavomaculatus)
Wide-headed Tree Frog (Leptopelis grandiceps)
Parker's Tree Frog (Leptopelis parkeri)
Uluguru Tree Frog (Leptopelis uluguruensis)
Vermiculated Tree Frog (Leptopelis vermiculatus)
Related Squeaker (Arthroleptis affinis)
Reiche's Squeaker (Arthroleptis reichei)
Long-fingered Squeaker (Arthroleptis stenodactylus)
Strange Squeaker (Arthroleptis xenodactylus)
Dwarf Squeaker (Arthroleptis xenodactyloides)
Mababe Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus mababiensis)
Natal Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus natalensis)
Krefft's Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus kreffti)
Plain Grass Frog (Ptychadena anchietae)
Nile Grass Frog (Ptychadena nilotica)
Amani River Frog (Amietia tenuoplicata)
Edible Bullfrog (Pyxicephalus edulis)
Speke's Hinged Tortoise (Kinixys spekii)
Serrated Hinged Terrapin (Pelusios sinuatus)
Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)
Southern Tree Agama (Acanthocercus gregorii)
Tropical Spiny Agama (Agama armata)
Dodoma Rock Agama (Agama dodomae)
Montane Rock Agama (Agama montana)
Mozambique Agama (Agama mossambica)
Flap-necked Chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis)
Magombera Forest Chameleon (Kinyongia magomberae)
East Usambara Blade-horned Chameleon (Kinyongia matschiei)
West Usambara Blade-horned Chameleon (Kinyongia multituberculata)
Usambara Soft-horned Chameleon (Kinyongia tenuis)
Udzungwa Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon moyeri)
Nchisi Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon nchisiensis)
Usambara Spiny Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon spinosus)
Usambara Pitted Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon temporalis)
Bearded Pygmy Chameleon (Rieppeleon brevicaudatus)
Usambara Three-horned Chameleon (Trioceros deremensis)
Ukinga Hornless Chameleon (Trioceros incornutus)
Giant One-horned Chameleon (Trioceros melleri)
Udzungwa Double-bearded Chameleon (Trioceros tempeli)
Werner's Three-horned Chameleon (Trioceros werneri)
Speke's Sand Lizard (Heliobolus spekii)
Eastern Sawtail Tree Lizard (Holaspis laevis)
Great Plated Lizard (Broadleysaurus major)
Yellow-throated Plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus flavigularis)
Usambara Forest Gecko (Ancylodactylus africanus)
Uluguru Forest Gecko (Ancylodactylus barbouri)
East African House Gecko (Hemidactylus angulatus)
Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia)
Tree Gecko (Hemidactylus platycephalus)
Cape Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus capensis)
Conradt's Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus conradti)
Usambara Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus gravis)
Yellow-headed Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus picturatus)
Turquoise Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi)
Uluguru Sucker-tailed Gecko (Urocotyledon wolterstorffi)
Kilimanjaro Five-toed Skink (Leptosiaphos kilimensis)
Speckle-lipped Skink (Trachylepis maculilabris)
Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer)
Striped Skink (Trachylepis striata)
Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia)
Nile Monitor Lizard (Varanus niloticus)
White-throated Monitor Lizard (Varanus albigularis) DOR
Merker's Worm Snake (Leptotyphlops merkeri)
Central African Rock Python (Python sebae)
Whyte's Water Snake (Lycodonomorphus whytii)
Brown House Snake (Boaedon fuliginosus)
Cape Wolf Snake (Lycophidion capense)
Slender Burrowing Asp (Atractaspis aterrima)
Angola Green Snake (Philothamnus angolensis)
Slender Green Snake (Philothamnus heterolepidotus)
Usambara Green Snake (Philothamnus macrops)
Speckled Green Snake (Philothamnus punctatus)
Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)
Usambara Vine Snake (Thelotornis usambaricus)
White-lipped Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia)
Tornier's Cat Snake (Crotaphopeltis tornieri)
Olive Marsh Snake (Natriciteres olivacea)
Forest Marsh Snake (Natriciteres sylvatica)
Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps)
Usambara Bush Viper (Atheris ceratophora)
Mount Rungwe Bush Viper (Atheris rungweensis)
Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica)
Many thanks to Robin Gloor, Marielle Lausch, Daniel Liepack, Bryan Minne, Lily Shallom and Stephen Spawls.