Giants of African herpetology
Yesteryear. My all-time favourite photograph and quite something – being photographed with the giants of African herpetology.
On the left is the late Bill Branch who I met early in 1980 while working at Transvaal Snake Park. I went on several field trips to Limpopo, the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and Namibia with Bill with the most memorable trips to Niassa Reserve in northern Mozambique and Mulanje Mountains in Malawi. We also shared a passion for photography and fishing. Bill spent most of his working life at the Port Elizabeth Museum as herpetologist. He worked in over 20 countries, authored over 600 publications (over 150 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals) and described over 50 reptile and frog species. His book Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa is known as Uncle Bill’s Bible. Bill passed away on 14 October 2018 at the age of 72.
Next to Bill is Wulf Haacke, former herpetologist at the Transvaal Museum and now retired in Pretoria East. I met Wulf in 1980 and would often visit him with a list of questions – my Google at the time. Visiting Wulf was quite daunting – a little like a visit to the school principal. Wulf is now 84 and after two strokes is not doing particularly well with his health. We have regular coffee sessions, but they have been affected by Covid19. I am seeing Wulf for coffee before the end of this month.
On my left is the late Don Broadley, the godfather of African herpetology. Don spent much of his life at the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo. He described 115 reptile species, published widely and was one of the funder members of the Herpetological Association of Africa. Many herpetologists used his book Snakes of Rhodesia (later Snakes of Zimbabwe) as well as Broadley’s FitzSimons Snakes of Southern Africa as reference works. I was honoured to have a lizard named after me by Don – Zygaspis maraisi. Don passed away in 2016.
On the right is Aaron Bauer, probably the most published living herpetologist with well over 500 scientific publications to his name. Aaron works on reptiles all over the world but is particularly keen on geckos and has done a great deal of work in Southern Africa, especially Namibia. I have been fortunate to have done several field trips with Aaron – mostly to various art of Namibia but also some to Zimbabwe, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape. Aaron is with Villanova University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and until Covid19 stopped world travel, would visit South Africa at least once a year. Aaron named a gecko from coastal Namibia after me – Pachydactylus maraisi.