With the Big 5 taking centre stage, sightings of reptiles and amphibians are probably not high on the list for those planning a safari to Africa. The continent is, however rich in diversity when it comes to these species considering that around 1,600 of the world’s over 10,000 reptiles and 815 of approximately 8,000 amphibians occur here. It is also worthwhile to note that various species that have been discovered as long as 20 years ago, still don’t have names while others are yet to be discovered.
Just as other more illustrious inhabitants of the natural world, the continent’s reptiles and amphibians have also not escaped the threat of habitat loss to their continued existence. Most of these species are dependant on specific biomes for survival, and once these are wiped out, they will become extinct too.
The species richness of reptiles and amphibians is mainly thanks to the varied ecosystems that fill the natural African landscape, and where they make their home—coastal areas, mountains, forests, deserts/semi-deserts, and savannah grasslands. Reptiles, with their dry and scaly skin, will seek the most optimum environments in which to thrive, and the same goes for amphibians that are covered with smooth and moist skin.
Africa is abundantly blessed with more than 50 national parks where countless crocodiles, lizards, snakes, tortoises, frogs, and toads occur. These stretch and circle from the Kruger National Park in South Africa to Etosha National Park in Namibia. Furthermore, they are found in Moremi in Botswana, Gorongosa in Mozambique, Hwange in Zimbabwe, and Kafue in Zambia. In addition to these, parks like Amboseli in Kenya, the Serengeti in Tanzania, Nyika in Malawi. and Bwindi in Uganda are all home to various species.
When it comes to the most ancient of predators, the Nile crocodiles rule supreme with a lifespan of up to 100 years. They can grow to be six metres in length, yet have no problem hiding and lurking in swampy waters and murky rivers. The best chance of seeing the might of crocodiles in action is most certainly in July and August, during the Great Migration when millions of zebra and wildebeest move between Tanzania and Kenya.
A variety of venomous and non-venomous snakes inhabit the African landscape. The deadly black mamba is probably most feared, while the constrictive power of the rock python is not to be underestimated. Snakes are more visible during the warmer summer months and largely inactive during winter when they hibernate.
The leopard tortoise, a member of the Little Five, is a common sight across the African Savannah. With their camouflaged shell pattern, they can weigh as much as 50 kilograms. In contrast, the African helmeted turtle only grows to a maximum size of 20 centimetres in diameter.