Our search for the holy grail of dwarf adders in South Africa, the Albany adder (Bitis albanica) was born from a challenge we set ourselves to see all 9 of the South African dwarf adders in the wild. In 2017 we organized a trip to the Eastern Cape to visit the habitat that this species occupies in the Albany district. We faced the usual challenges of arranging access to private properties, and with so little information available on the species, we did not think we would stand a chance. A local landowner and the person who have seen the most Albany adders in the wild (at that stage only 12 confirmed sightings of the species in the wild) met up with us and gave us a few pointers. We searched for days. And then we gave up. Members of our search party left, and a few of us decided to give it one last half an hour of searching. There it was, at our feet, soaking up the post-mid-day sun! It was incredible.
In 2018 the Endangered Wildlife Trust contracted Bionerds as Consultants on their "Averting Extinction: Conserving South Africa's most Threatened Snake" project, funded by the PTES (Peoples Trust for Endangered Species).
The first phase of this project ran from September 2018 to February 2020 and focused on conducting feasibility surveys to determine the core area of distribution of Bitis albanica and assess the habitat protection options to conserve this Endangered species. Albany adders are endemic to the Eastern Cape, where its known range is restricted to Coega Bontveld (an Endangered vegetation type) that falls within the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Biodiversity Hotspot. The data collected from this project was used to develop a Habitat Suitability Model for the species. During the project duration, Bionerds added nine new records of the species to the overall 26 confirmed records of the species being observed in the wild. This phase of the project was concluded with the identification and engagement with landowners that own and borders on this species' core distribution area and affected and interested stakeholders and institutions in the Eastern Cape.
This project's second phase kicked off in December 2020, this time funded by the Rainforest Trust. This phase will address the key conservation recommendations set out in the latest reptile assessment (Maritz et al., 2018). This includes conducting more surveys to increase the body of knowledge for this species (biology, population numbers, habitat requirements etc.), the development of a species action plan for Bitis albanica and affecting formal protection for the core population of this species through Biodiversity Stewardship and hopefully the declaration of a Protected Area for the Albany adder.
We are excited about phase two of this project and working alongside our partners, an incredible team of scientists, at the EWT.