0004 – Impact of Construction on the Environment

  • Post published:2022-07-31

It would like to make it clear from the start that this is a personal opinion being expressed. This may not be in agreement with other individuals.  I have made every attempt to ensure it is factually accurate, there is some bias. Most of what is mentioned is personal observation and a degree of common sense to the impact of construction.

The impact of construction is an extremely diverse and broad subject and affects our environment in numerous ways. This is both on the broader spectrum of habitat destruction, down to the microclimatic changes.

In this article I am covering developments that are generally occurring within the core of Gauteng. This is industrial, commercial, residential (townhouse & cluster developments) and freehold property (quarter and half acre). Plot dwellers will be covered briefly and farms (crop & livestock). The conclusion is a personal view. The ideas and proposals are suggested for the relevant authorities and experts to consider. Hopefully they will come up with viable means to relieve the pressure on our indigenous reptiles (and other species).

Development as a whole:

Regardless how eco-friendly buildings and proposed housing developments and estates are designed, reptile life will be affected Snakes (Serpentes / Ophidia) and the Monitor (Varanidae) species are greatly affected. The majority of the human population do not like to share “their” environment / property with these creatures. The impact of construction is not only felt by our venomous species. It is down to the extremely useful harmless Brown/ Cape House Snakes (Boaedon capensis, formally Lamprophis capensis) and similar species.

Cape House Snake


Even with extensive education programs a lot of the adults are set in their ways. They believe “the only good snake is a dead snake”. This is passed across onto their children forming a viscous circle. Education programs directed at the youth will hopefully show a decline in the needless killing of snakes. This could take at least 5 to 10 years, but more likely generations. By then humans would have created a massive amount of further habitat destruction through the impact of construction. There is a small percentage of the populous that calls people to remove these “problem snakes”. One aspect that needs to be kept in mind for the entirety of this article. It is the human race encroaching in their habitat. Reptiles and other animals are not encroaching on human habitat.

Common Aspects:

When I refer to common aspects, this refers to the infrastructure humans believe they require to survive. Its also the direct impact they have on the environment. Regardless of the type of development being undertaken the following are required to be put in place: –

  1. Power Stations & Power Lines (underground & overhead),
  2. Water sources & water reticulation,
  3. Sewer networks & sewerage works,
  4. Telecommunications (Telkom, MTN, Vodacom, Cell C etc…),
  5. Roads & Stormwater Systems (surface & piped).

Power Stations and Power Lines:

As a rule power lines are of little to no consequence for our reptiles. They do cause havoc for other animals such as the vultures. Overhead or underground cables do not have any great effect on the microclimate. Power stations on the other hand do have a direct impact on the land, and require roads to the site. The major power stations, such as Kelvin Power Station take up large areas of land. These do not offer anything back to the environment. Heading out of Gauteng, stations like Medupi have significant impact not only through their own footprint. They also have roads and coal supply routes. Indirectly the impact of coal mines.

Hydroelectric power stations also have large impact on the environment, but one that can generally be recovered from. This is covered under the water sources – Dams.

It must be noted that ESKOM was/ is doing large amounts of research on pylons/ power lines. This is to make them vulture safe and has cost vast amounts of money. I stand to correction, but to my knowledge there are private enterprises also funding these. They are also putting in large sums of money into various conservation issues. Probably reduced over recent years given the financial state they are in. I am excluding anything relating to their recent change in emissions to assist in generation. South Africa is in trouble with power and it is a double edge sword.

Water Sources and Reticulation:

The reticulation is typically of little consequence to our environment. The water sources do however have an impact on the environment. These are: dams, reservoirs and water towers.

Dams have the largest impact on our environment. They are responsible for changing the flow of the river downstream depending on the position of the floodgates. After construction of the dam wall, there is no longer a natural flow of water, but a man controlled flow. When the floodgates are fully opened they cause local flooding downstream. This was seen in 2023 when the gates of the Vaal dam were opened causing extensive flooding.

The impact of their construction was clearly seen and felt by those residents. Some snakes may be able to escape up a tree, but many will be killed or severely injured. Tortoises will more than likely be killed. They do not have the required speed to get out of the way of a river in flood. Nor are they able to climb or swim to safety. We note some species such as the Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis, formally Geochelone pardalis) and the Bell’s Hinged Tortoise (Kinixys belliana) have been recorded floating across rivers. They may be able to survive the flooding. Chameleons and lizards will have been impacted and certainly nesting sites. Numerous reptiles species would have had the eggs destroyed by the Vaal Dam flood (2023). It will have further impacted on bird nests, and even mammals and their babies.

A secondary impact of construction of dams is upstream. Extensive flooding of the land occurs and the immediate habitat changes. What may have been relatively dry and desolate now has extensive water supplies. Some species will be required to move to other suitable areas. It may also result in species of trees, termite mounds and other natural features being submerged . Reptiles were dependent upon these and would have to seek them elsewhere. For example the Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) lays its eggs in termite mounds. One limited benefit of a dam is that it provides a vast new environment. This is for other reptiles to move in with plenty of access to water, reeds and other prey such as fish, crabs or frogs.

Reservoirs & Water Towers have a nominal effect on the habitat. It is mainly the direct area that they occupy. Although this effect is minimal in the grand scale of things. If one considers number of these service facilities built (all services) and the area they impact, it is considerable. Such land was “once” home to many species, beyond that of reptiles. These are now sterile to nature other than perhaps some common bird species that may be tolerated, such as the House Sparrow.

Sewer Networks and Reticulation:

This reticulation is of little consequence. It has more of a visual impact on the landscape when the pipelines are above ground. For our reptiles it is not of great effect, as they can go round or under the line where this occurs.

The sewerage treatment plants do pose a negative impact. A large amount of refuse and other foreign matter is discharged into these lines in addition to sewerage. All of this being discharged into large treatment plants makes it unsuitable for many forms of life. The water is not suitable for the reptiles to drink and other life to survive.

Purification plants take up vast amounts of land to carry out the process of separation of solid matter and purification of water. Although the water & solid matter is recycled, the treatment plants are what directly impact the environment. As staff work at these service facilities (all services), snakes are still likely to be killed on discovery. Tortoises will more than likely be caught for someone’s pet, or alternatively killed for food and the ‘muti-trade’. Frogs & lizards are a little more fortunate in that they are more accepted, however pollution still causes their demise.

As has come to the press, there are more instances where pipes are being discharged into dams or rivers. This may be a result of poor maintenance with broken lines, blocked lines overflowing through manholes or direct discharge as was reported in the Orange Freestate. This impact on streams is huge and occurs nation wide.


The reticulation is of no real consequence to the animal life. The only impact of construction of this service is really the supply facilities. As mentioned these stations are manned or visited. With this the chances are any wondering snakes will be killed. Tortoises are likely to be killed or taken home. Service technicians have probably killed a few snakes. Snakes have used more than one Telkom or similar boxes are good places of rest / hibernate. Roads are required for access to these supply buildings.

Roads and Stormwater:

This is the service that has the greatest impact on our environment in my opinion. There are various ways this occurs which are namely:-

  1. Land used
  2. Traffic
    1. Killing – Reptiles killed on the roads,
    2. Pollution
  3. Stormwater

Land usage for road networks is extremely high. Not only is the road surface of no use to any animal life except for those that enjoy “road kill”, but also they divide up areas of habitat. They form borders between areas of veld and rivers. Reptiles and most other animals are not aware to the consequences of roads and the traffic. Large numbers of tortoises, snakes, lizards and other life forms get killed/ severely injured each year by cars.

This is not purely the error of the road user, but of man as a whole. Going back to horse & carriage this was not an issue, but man required this “better” form of transport. Cars, buses & motorbikes may be better for us, but they have a great impact on the environment. This is due to the industrial plants required to make the vehicles (see industrial developments). To top it off there is the pollution that vehicles emit.

An animal does not know what a road is, just notes the change of the surface that has no life on it. They have no idea the dangers that travel on them. Vehicles Travel at speeds faster than they can often react, especially tortoises (Chelonia) and chameleons (Squamata). The reptile merely wants to get to the other side of the road. This may be for more grazing/ prey, following a potential mate or to find suitable nesting / hibernation spot. The average road user is not looking for small animals on the road. Many of them do not care if they kill a snake, tortoise, lizard or chameleon. It is not going to damage their car, so why bother to swerve, and admittedly legally one is not required to.

Flap-Neck Chameleon juvenile


We have therefore introduced these borders to animals, but they have no concept of what they are. Most of our roads being tarmac hold a lot of heat from an entire day baking in the sun. Snakes move onto the road to warm up in the mornings or during dusk. We have thus provided an effective death trap for the snakes to use. Even though this was not the initial intention, it has occurred. Extremely busy roads such as the Ben Schoeman Highway (N1) will keep the reptiles away due to the high amount of noise and vibrations.

In this situation we have divided their habitat and restricted them to the side of highway they are on. The reptile could attempt Russian roulette and try to cross such a road, but the chances of success are low. Similarly any mammal could try the same run, most likely not making it. To add to the complications of such a road crossing we have put up large concrete barriers in the center of the highway, making it nearly impossible for animals to cross. This also influences the genetic gene pool as the free flow of animals is restricted.

Not only are the reptiles suffering in this directly, but their prey also gets killed on the roads. Frogs are often found dead after rains. After a good rain there used to be a road that could be travelled in Midrand (Noordwyk) and on average you would find 3-4 squashed adult Giant African Bullfrogs. Now one is lucky to find one during heavy rains. These are listed as CITES Appendix I, but to our knowledge there are no formal breeding schemes or reserves in place to preserve the species. Given stormwater in the region it would be almost impossible and conservation efforts would have to be moved far from any development. Endangered Wildlife Trust was researching the bullfrog in Midrand and I think have conservation area well outside the urban edge, but large parts of their natural habitat have been destroyed.

Moving out of the northern and southern suburbs road crossing is less risky, but many are still killed. This is also as a result of greater populations of reptiles in rural areas than that of the suburbs. As one moves out of the suburbs so the reptiles change. In rural areas, reptiles such as Monitors (Varanus spp), South African Pythons (Python natalensis), Mambas (Dendroaspis spp) & other less common snakes are being killed.

Likewise as one goes away from development so the tortoise populations’ increase, and more possibly being killed on the roads. Most of these animals mentioned are CITES listed / TOPS species. We cannot allow them to be continually killed, without the implementation of breeding programs to prevent them eventually becoming CITES Appendix I or worse. Once we reach this stage it is far more difficult to try and recover the species. We need to pre-empt the eventual situation, and act now before the genetic gene pool is too small or weak to have effective breeding programs.

One other factor that comes into account for the road itself is the need for materials. The materials are from our environment. Large quarries are required for the providing of stone, cement and sand. Open cast mining destroys large parts of our landscape, which further destroys what was suitable habitat for various reptiles.

Traffic provides three negative issues. One is through the direct killing of animals on the road and sound pollution, which was mentioned previously. The last of the three main impacts that vehicles have on the environment is pollution.

One other minor aspect to keep in mind is a holiday traveller. In the rural areas tortoises suffer a different impact other than being hit by cars. People who are coming back from holiday pick up a tortoise off the side of the road thinking they are helping the animal. If they were to place it on the other side in the veld in the direction it was travelling they would be. There are a lot that get brought up to homes and kept as the family “pet”.

Quite often these people do not know how to correctly look after this animal and provide the correct enclosures. Some of the tortoises are specialist feeders and cannot survive purely on a kitchen food diet or even the habitat like the Serrated Tent Tortoise (Psammobates oculiferus), and thus die or get killed or damaged by the family dog. Education may help resolve or reduce the amount that this happens. Also having rehabilitation facilities in place that can look after these animals and donate to the public with the correct knowledge could assist the wild tortoise populations. The stopping of people selling these animals as has been happening for years from Sun City would be another beneficial move. Over the country there is likely to many of these places that leach off the environment.

Tent tortoise that was a dog chew toy that unfortunately didn’t make it


Cars emit oil and other chemicals onto the road. During the rainy season these chemicals are washed off the roads. In urban areas formal Stormwater systems are used, whereas in rural areas it is washed straight off into the veld. One could debate which has the greater consequences on the environment. At the end of the day, both are polluting the environment.

Even something as minor as a car accident will have an impact on the environment, assuming there is spillage of fuel, oil or even radiator fluid with anti-freeze. One accident in the middle of the Karoo every few months will be nominal, however in urban areas with Stormwater Systems, the effect will be greater. Major accidents with chemical tankers have far greater impacts, especially those in urban areas. Once again this is due to the Stormwater systems we have put in place. All of these aspects will be covered hereafter.

Stormwater Systems. These systems have been put in place to reduce the risk of accidents on flooded roads during the rainy season. The theory cannot be doubted, however these systems bring bad with them. There are five negative implications that these systems bring into environmental degradation.

  1. First and foremost is that of pollution. Humans as a whole are messy and inconsiderate. Lots of rubbish gets chucked out of car windows, dumped on the side of the road or in the veld. During heavy rains most of this will be washed into the Stormwater system that will eventually surface in a river or dam, depositing all this refuse. Over and above refuse there are the chemicals that also get washed into the waterways as previously mentioned.
  2. The percentage of chemicals to water may be very low, it still poisons the system, which we all know is a very fine balance. The answer to pollution is definitely not dilution. An example is the dam we had on our property in Midrand. For 17 years there was a large colony of Giant African Bullfrogs that bred every year without fail. During 1994-1995 the road we were on was diverted and a new tar road and Stormwater system built. The Giant African Bullfrogs came out early the next season, but after these first rains they all left and / or died. This Local Authority had decided to discharge the Stormwater system into our dam. From one rain a successful breeding colony was destroyed, as the council did not undertake adequate environmental impact studies. If they had carried this out, they would have diverted the line and discharge into a spruit about 750m away. They just carried out this work without any consultation with the residents as to what existed on the land and thus the impact to the frogs meant nothing to them. In addition to loosing the frogs, we also lost a variety of other animals that used to frequent our dam like crabs, frogs, Spoonbills, Darters, Blacksmith Plovers, Egrets, White Faced Whistling Ducks, Secretary Birds & Egyptian Geese. The only noticeable life form that we had after this were Serrated Terrapins (Pelomedusa subrufa). Large volumes of refuse were collected weekly from the dam area. On average we removed 2-3 black rubbish bags a week. This came from approx. 3km of road
  3. This was compounded even further when the road widening was done a few years later as they duly blocked off the dam overflow point. This dried out the wetland below the dam where a lot of frogs and crabs lived. Subsequently this caused the dam to burst and it is now just a useless clay depression. All of this was ruined in a space of a few of years and no consideration given to the landowners, never mind the environment. The Stormwater system discharging into the dam at the time was in the region of about 3km long, which is a small length compared to that being discharged into our rivers in Gauteng alone.
  4. A similar incident occurred in the Boksburg Pan where Giant African Bullfrogs where also successfully breeding and this too impacted heavily on a well established colony. This was not just a plot dam they were using, but supposedly a demarcated Giant African Bullfrog Pan. Despite doing this there were no plans to relocate the animals in either of the above-mentioned dams or to set-up breeding colonies. Developers should be compelled to donate an amount towards conservation to relocate such animals or set-up specialised facilities.
  5. The other aspect that Stormwater systems modify is that of the water table and flood lines. Most developments have an area of around 50-60% impermeable ground. Johannesburg Roads Agency works on 80% for development control on attenuation facilities. Therefore all the water falling in these areas doesn’t get into the water table in that area, but further away in a river or dam. This means that in largely developed areas on the tops of ridges or hills have reduced/ lower water tables. This has an effect on the vegetation in these areas, which will change the microclimate. Changing this will affect the prey that snakes require for survival. We are therefore making our developed land dryer. This pertains mainly to industrial and commercial developments. Most residential (freehold) properties do not have piped systems. It is now a by-law of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council that piped stormwater systems are put in place for all Townhouse and Cluster developments. Attenuation facilities were introduced by all authorities to assist in the surge to rivers, but does not include old schemes, only new schemes. It also only applies to schemes over a certain scale, so there is still an increased amount of water discharge into rivers. The Western Cape has taken an approach in order to attenuate and discharge quality of water. Most of these attenuation facilities do not hold water long enough to recharge ground water as pre-development, but it is better than nothing.
  6. With this ruling being put in place we are pumping large volumes of pollution into the river systems, changing the flood lines. The rivers are now taking far greater volumes of water than before and hence the flood levels are increasing. A lot of animals in addition to reptiles nest and hibernate in the banks above the waterline. This line is rising and often in heavy storms the water rises above the “original banks”. Nesting birds, reptile eggs etc… will all be drowned or no longer have these areas as nest sites. With the increased flows so erosion increases. As the flood plains become wider other animals such as tortoises can be affected. What may appear to be a good place to rest until the storm is over may not be. A river taking a lot of Stormwater mains may rise above the banks and wash the tortoise away.
  7. With the lowering of the water table on higher ground this too will affect other creatures. Termites for example always nest above the water table, with a few tunnels extending down to it. These nests now have to become very deep in order for them to get water, and thus they are moving to other locations. A lot of snakes hibernate or lay eggs in these termite nests that are now going to follow these nest sites.

It is clear that in order to keep the city folk happy with services that these will continue to directly affect our environment. Over and above this are the developments that we live and work in that cause even further impact. Following this is the impact of the various types of developments that generally occur within the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council. I am using this area, as it is where I live, but also one can clearly see the impact in Midrand over the last 20 odd years. A lot of the next section will make reference to Midrand, but other examples are given.

Industrial Developments

These have a greater affect in terms of Stormwater and pollution. Most of these developments have large impermeable areas. Large bottling plants have very nominal areas of landscaping; most of it is either structure or paving. Structures like this contribute greatly to the Stormwater systems due to an almost 90-95% impermeable area of huge sites.

Developments such as the steel plants in Vanderbijl Park, are contributing greatly to the pollution of the environment as been shown in programs like 50/50 and Special Assignment. These companies have been through court cases due to land being unsuitable for any forms of living or farming. They do not have adequate waste disposal or treatment facilities for the effluent they discharge. Some of the companies do not have the financial means to put these facilities in place. This not only affects the immediate area, but also permeates further down stream and continually spreads contaminating the environment.

Industrial areas as a whole are dirty. In areas of mechanical plants there is often metal fragments, oil and other contaminants that will get into the water system. Although a factory on its own, effect is minimal, in mass it all builds up. In Holland, all petrol station forecourts were taken up, the land cleaned, returned to the site and an impermeable layer placed under the paving. All this to reduce the environmental damage.

As a conclusion to these developments they cause both water, land and air pollution and impact the Stormwater systems. They bring in people and roads where reptiles would not be welcome again. Not only is the land sometimes classed as uninhabitable, the situation with man/ developments also causes this. Although specifically mentioning reptiles, this goes further as most other life is pushed out. Few common bird species may survive.

Commercial Developments:

Commercial developments emit fairly low levels of pollution. The main impact that these developments bring is that of pollution through the use of services as previously mentioned. Needless to say they also destroy the land that they are situated on. This is by the structure itself and the related paving/impermeable areas.

A different type of environment is created in the commercial business parks via landscaping and water features. These facilities maybe adequate for the survival on many snake species such as the Red-lip Herald (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia), Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus), Brown/ Cape House Snake (Boaedon capensis) to name a few and even tortoises (Chelonia). Man is the bigger problem, as reptiles would not be tolerated in such areas. Roads and cars would stress the animals, thus rendering these areas of development unsatisfactory to them, but ok to animals like birds. Unfortunately reptiles are also wanderers and would not stay within the landscaped zones and are more likely to be killed on our roads.

Sadly due to the higher number of roads and residences near to commercial zones vast areas become uninhabitable for reptiles. Snakes being shy animals the noise (vibration) and amount of activity in these areas will also force them and the prey away to “quieter” areas.

Even within the corporate park we are in where there are ducks and Egyptian Geese, there have been many killed by cars despite all the warnings and requests by the development to be cautious. There are some humans who just don’t care, and worse are those who injure and just leave it. . . Over time and the rush of human society there seems to be more and more of this type of person posing a greater threat on all type of animals in the environment, not just our reptiles.

Housing Developments

In many ways these developments have similar impacts to those of commercial developments. With a lot of our snakes being nocturnal or diurnal they get caught more readily in housing schemes than commercial. Cluster or townhouse complexes are often fairly quiet during the day and it is therefore perceived to be safe to try and look for food. Refuse yards attract mice & rats, the more common prey for snakes. A few snakes do manage to live in highly populated areas such as the Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) and Brown/ Cape House Snakes (Boaedon capensis). Many of these snakes manage to keep out of sight, but it is nearly always fatal for those who get caught. You get the odd concerned citizen who will call someone out to remove it, or those who are too scared to kill it, but either way the snakes lives another day.

These developments also bring in the entire infrastructure as discussed. As stated such developments now are required by Johannesburg and possibly other councils to have piped Stormwater systems. These developments are continually increasing at an alarming rate, and what was previously veld/ natural habitat is now being made into a high-density housing complex. Plot holders are slowly being pushed further away from the CBD (Central Business Districts) as the demand for housing increases. Likewise the reptiles and other wildlife are pushed out further into smaller “wild / natural habitats”.

Other animals are also greatly impacted by this with the increased use of pesticides. A large amount of animals prey on insects from lizards, birds and bats. With the food source declining they died off or moved out of the area.

The link between commercial and residential becomes a viscous circle of habitat destruction. As the demand for commercial facilities increase, so it brings more people in, which require more housing. More housing means more demand for business, therefore more housing required and so it continues. As this spreads over the land so the habitat is destroyed, not only to reptiles, but most forms of wildlife. Look at any major town and what wildlife remains.

Freehold Properties:

These developments in some ways are worse than that of high density due to the space they occupy (1000-2000 square meters), but it is still not safe for a snake or even other reptiles to live in. In comparison 4-6 houses would occupy the area in a high-density development. Thus the demand for land is higher, resulting in more infrastructure. Rats & mice are drawn in with our refuse, so are the snakes in search of food. During the day such areas are quiet and they may attempt to try their luck, often meaning the loss of their life. Most of nature is forced out by development, even fauna and these areas destroy more area per residence than that of high density residential.

Just use Google Earth and see the image history and you can see the urban spread and destruction of land for development. Midrand / Halfway House used to be classed as “being in the sticks” some 25 to 30 years ago. Reptile life was high, but now we hardly see any snakes. Likewise the types of reptiles have also changed. Previously common species such as Red-lips / Herald Snakes (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) are rarely seen. Their prey is hardly seen now, frogs. The water ways are so polluted from roads and sewer discharge frogs have died off and moved out. The specialist frog eating species have had to do the same.

This type of development has the same vicious circle attached as that to high-density housing. Another aspect to be kept in mind is that plot and farm dwellers are moving into towns. This is not only due to the prices of such properties, but also due to current security concerns. This adds to greater development needs.


Plots have a slightly less significant impact on the environment. It must be noted I am taliking of the traditional 6 acre plots, not these plot security estates with mansions. This is generally because the roads are not as busy and many are dirt, which usually means slower speeds. This gives the reptile a little more time to escape. The majority of plot holders are used to or not as phased by seeing a snake and other wildlife. A lot of the plot regions are left as open veld for grazing, which gives them more space to move around. More insects were able to survive allowing for more food sources to frogs, lizards, birds and bats. This allowed for more of a balance for the predators.

A lot of the plot holders have various types of livestock. This brings in mice and rats for the feed, which in turn brings the snakes in. Some people are scared that their livestock will be bitten by the snakes, but 99.9% of the time the snake will move away before the horse or cow gets close enough. One concern being expressed to me by one stable facility was a snake being in the stable. It is not the snake itself that causes the damage, but rather the horse trying to get away from it in a confined environment. Being on a plot for 20 years with horses, we never had a single instance where an issue was caused by a snake.

There are some city dwellers who want to get that country feel and buy properties of around 2-3 acres. These generally get kept clean and gardened over the entire area, not necessarily making it the most viable place for snakes to live. A lot of these residents will kill the snake if it is seen. The manicured garden have pesticides used and most fauna often removed.


These provide both good and bad conditions to the reptile world. In sugar cane, wheat and mielie fields cane rats often exist. For reptiles such as the Southern Rock Python (Python natalensis) this is an ideal environment. This is provided that the farmer and the staff are adequately educated to their uses and will tolerate them on their farms.

Generally dams are found on the properties also providing a suitable environment for reptiles of all forms to survive. Crop farming has less impact on the land and the reptile life, as they are able to survive in the large expanses of rotating crops. They are normally able to keep away from the kraals or farm residence and the staff due to adequate space. Both crop & livestock farming as described below still affect tortoise & chameleon habitats.

Despite the good that farms can provide, they also cause massive destruction of natural habitat. One of the main reasons for the Geometric Tortoises (Psammobates geometricus) demise is that of habitat destruction. A large expanse of their natural vegetation or habitat has been converted to commercial farmland. Geometric Tortoises (Psammobates geometricus) are specialist feeders and therefore are very limited to where they can go. So not only do they have to compete for grazing/ food sources, they too get picked up for pets or used in the muti-trade. Most of those taken as pets often die through ignorance of their dietary needs.

One of man’s biggest downfalls is that they cannot look at something in the wild and appreciate it. There is often a need to take something or leave a mark for all to see. Wherever development occurs, people are nearby, thus more reptiles are affected. Not only is development (structures or infrastructure) the problem, but also the more people with it.

On the down side, despite the crop farmers who share the view of, “all snakes should be dead” is that of livestock farming. This type of farming can often scar and modify the original landscape to large degrees. Although the snakes are not as greatly affected, the tortoises / chameleons are. What was originally scrub becomes open veld, succulents and other plant life are consumed quicker than it can recover by overgrazing. For some species such as the Tent Tortoises (Psammobates spp.), succulents are one of the main constituents of their diet. Without it, they need to try and find other suitable areas. Their travels could either make them meet up with man or alternatively with the roads, and even those who make these obstacles may still not find a suitable habitat.


Large structures or high-density housing can affect this. In areas of high development the ambient temperature in the area is warmer. This gives some plants and animals a better chance to survive through the winters, as frost is far less. With different vegetation being grown or other species surviving, this can make an environment moister, and in some cases dryer.

An example of microclimate impact due to a structure is that of the UNISA building in the valley in Pretoria. Due to the extent that the structure protrudes into the valley it is changing the wind direction and velocity from what was natural. Due to this various plants that were able to grow in that area are no longer surviving. Taking this into account, it is fauna being damaged/ destroyed. This in turn will affect herbivorous creatures, which are prey to other animals and eventually it will have an impact on the predators.

Other aspects that have not been covered in this article which negatively impact on the environment are railway networks, informal settlements, alien plants and animals introduced by man and poisons used in and around the home. Further to this is the lack of conservation efforts prior to the reptile reaching a critical status like the Geometric Tortoise (Psammobates geometricus)


As there is no possible way to alleviate development or the infrastructure required for modern day living, we need to look how we can help animals continue to survive and have safe areas to survive. It is certainly a very difficult solution to be found if even possible as all reptiles wander. Mentioned hereafter are possible methods to help with the conservation of some species and provide green belts within or suburbs.

  1. Private breeders and herpetologists are the people who generally have the money to carry out breeding programs. Conservation bodies are nearly always short of cash to set-up such specialised facilities. As all indigenous species require permits, assistance from the relevant Conservation Authorities would be required. Scientists, conservationists, field specialists and the people interested such breeding facilities should work in conjunction with each other to ensure they work and prosper. This however doesn’t occur, mainly due to power trips of legislation.
  2. Specialised rehabilitation facilities for reptiles. Reptile rehabilitation is normally carried on the back of other specialised rehabilitators who do the work as they are permitted to do it, but it is not their forte. All reptiles require expensive and specialised enclosures for effective rehabilitation and even specialised knowledge between the different types of species. Someone who specialises in snakes, may not be able to do chameleons as these are highly sensitive to correct husbandry, even when healthy.
  3. Making indigenous species more easily available to the public. I am certainly not in favour of removing the permit system, but it needs to be more streamlined and efficient. If people can easily obtain legal specimens and have few to no hassles with Nature Conservation there would possibly be less specimens removed from the wild. Taking tortoises for instance. Many tortoises are removed from the wild or sold on the side of the road for tourists. The specimens get taken to homes where most people have hardly any knowledge on their dietary needs or enclosures. A lot of them land up dying or becoming a teething toy for the family pet. A rehabilitation facility as mentioned above could donate to the public for a cost of any medical costs incurred, but also recommend to people how to correctly keep the animal. Inspections of such facilities should be made compulsory. As the conservation authorities have the limited resources they should allow “reservist” officials to do inspections on their behalf. These people could educate and assist to get the husbandry up to standard. If it is not up to scratch on follow up, with the minimum keeping requirements, the Conservation Authority legal / inspectorate is called in to prosecute or remove the animal. Wild caught animals typically have parasites and are of greater risk to captive bred, so very quickly people will rather be after captive specimens.
  4. All confiscated animals are sent to the public zoos that in many cases do not want to have the additional animals or may not have the extra facilities to adequately house them. Rehabilitation center’s as mentioned could take in these animals for possible release back into the wild with the assistance of Nature Conservation or donated onto people who want to care for the animal correctly. It is also a risk for them taking in drop-off specimens from the public as it is not known what illness the animal may have which could possibly infect their own populations. If the animal is sick they need to treat it using up valuable funds for an animal they may not want.
  5. Breeding and release programs into the wild. As with most endangered mammals and birds there are registered and acknowledged breeding facilities in place, but there is very little being done for reptiles. Reptiles do not tame and therefore could easily be released back into the wild and survive. There is no greater risk of the spreading diseases into the wild in reptiles than with mammals / birds. I do agree that a medical examination should be done prior to release to ensure the animal is as healthy as possible. Such release programs must be done with the Conservation Authority to ensure they are released in a suitable area of known populations or previously recorded populations. Such releases, I expect, would only strengthen the genetic gene pool in that region, even if it is not known where the animal originally came. Sub-species of any species are capable of interbreeding and having young that are fertile. Species do not cross breed so there would be little, if any chance of hybrids naturally developing.
  6. Green belts between areas of development should be looked at with the local authorities to allow wildlife the chance to move around in relative safety. There green belts would also serve as parks that are greatly lacking in most of our towns and cities. Human and animal would benefit from these ‘lungs’. The planning needs to look at better shaping these spaces. Rather than a few narrow belts through an area of say 20m, a single 60m would given more chance to nature. The increased width gives more chance to find suitable habitat, but in SA there is a secondary problem to this. These are security risks if not managed an maintained/ grass cut defeating some of their benefit.
  7. Protected wetlands need to be established to allow species of frog and bird to re-establish breeding colonies with minimal risk of severe pollution. Stormwater discharge is one main item to protect these area from and if required, natural filters should be in place before the main pond/ breeding area to remove the contaminants.
  8. Education programs on the risks of pollution and needlessly killing off these predators, even if it is through the indirect use of poisons. People are unaware as to the amount of rodents that a raptor and/ or reptile eats in a year, or the amounts of good chameleons do in the garden. If there were large amounts of snakes in an area it would probably indicate a high population of rodents, so they are only carrying out their intended existence of keeping prey in controlled populations. Humans poor management of waste often brings these rodents in.
  9. Restrictions on the muti-trade. This would be a highly controversial issue to take on, but there are a lot of endangered specimens being killed for the purpose of muti. Education programs need to be run to this group of the community that they cannot just keep taking from the wild as it will eventually run-out. Although not all species breed at the desired rate as that of crocodiles, but commercial farming showed how it can aid and indeed stop the demise of wild populations. Similar projects for some species could be undertaken to help relieve the pressure on wild specimens. It is not nice to farm animals for death, but given the greater evil of an animals extinction, it is worth consideration. Demand doesn’t slow as populations decrease, value actually increases as is seen in the Rhino. Farming took the value out of the wild crocodile.
  10. Education programs to the youth to reduce the fear and fallacies that surround snakes. A lot of the fear people have is through ignorance rather than phobia. I have seen with a couple of good friends of mine who used to be terrified of snakes. They could only tell me fallacies surrounding them, now keep snakes. The fear and fallacy was broken down with education. I have also received snake call-outs for the removal of problem snakes that children have found on their properties that I gave educational talks to. They managed to persuade their parents not to kill the animal and have it removed. This gave me the chance to give parents basic knowledge of snakes in the area. Just the work I had done over the few years made a visible impact. One thing to be noted is that to educate children it is recommended that live specimens be used. It has a far greater impact and sticks in their minds better than slide shows or digital presentations. It improves the chances of empathy than looking at pictures on an iPad. Kids are subjected day in and day out to digital stimuli. Live stimuli gets more attention for longer and something they can relate to. Another advantage of using live specimens is one can show their behaviour more easily and the handling of the snakes can aid reduce fear. Allowing children to handle a species like the Common Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra) greatly assists in fear removal. Also showing behavioural traits like a Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) shamming dead. It is impossible to show this behaviour using photographs. Using cobra’s in talks also helps to relieve the perceived aggression of these species. Although it is stressed that if you do not have the training do not handle. But if you can it removes the major killer impression people have of them. I do admit there are inherent risks in such talks and rules and regulations of such talks should be imposed. This is to ensure the safety of the attendants. For instance safe working distance between handler and audience. A second handler present in case of a freak accident. Correct handling equipment be used by someone who is adequately trained and has the required experience to do such talks. Even though the risk is still there, it can be greatly reduced in my opinion. They will therefore do more good and should be promoted. I must insist by recognised people. “Cowboy” handlers could easily do more damage to the cause than good and this is what needs to be avoided. Greater control regulations need to be in place for training to ensure that there is a standard all presenters meet. Given the permit issues, even the use of exotics can be beneficial in the removal of fear. Knowledge can be passed on of these misunderstood creatures. It will be better if the departments would link up with private people to promote the talks. They could assist with permits, as the big picture is conservations. This is in theory what they stand for.

I am sure there are many other ideas that can be brought to the attention of the authorities. These could assist in preserving of our indigenous reptiles that are an integral part of the food chain. These efforts similarly can assist our other wildlife and fauna.