Hidden in our indigenous forest is a recently discovered species of dwarf chameleon. At this very moment Prof. Krystal Tolley, a Research Leader at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), is working hard to name this very elusive reptile.
In the 1980s an employee from CapeNature’s scientific services found two chameleons in the Grootvadersbosch forest, they were collected and preserved at the South African Museum. After this initial sighting, no chameleons were spotted again. Previously scientists thought that the population in the Grootvadersbosch forest may be an isolated population of Knysna dwarf chameleons (Bradypodion damaranum), as they suspect that millions of years ago the Grootvadersbosch forest was connected to the Knysna forest.
In around 2003, Krystal received a phone call from the manager of the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve informing her that they had found a dead chameleon. Krystal traveled straight here to collect it. DNA sequencing on this specimen established that the species in our forest is a separate species to the Knysna Dwarf chameleon.
Krystal has worked hard trying to describe and name the Grootvadersbosch chameleon. A big issue she has encountered is not finding enough specimens. The dead specimen collected in 2003 was partly decomposed making it difficult to use. They also had no morphological data on the species. She explained that you need to have several specimens to describe a species, so you can deduct a baseline of the range of features that represent the species. You also need a range of data such as measurements, photos and back in the day, drawings.
She continued visiting the forest every year 3 years to try and locate the chameleons, with no luck. Finally, two years ago Alouise and Keir Lynch from Bionerds collected samples for her. The extra samples showed for sure that our species is a separate species to the Knysna dwarf chameleon.
In October, we spent the week helping her find chameleons. We collected data from their habitat and ran non invasive experiments. Currently she has a big team working to understand the adaptations of different species of dwarf chameleons in fynbos and forest biomes. The team has deduced that the fynbos biome has very thin vertical perches, with an average perch size of around 1mm in circumference. In forests, the perches are either horizontal or vertical and are much wider, ranging between 3mm and 4mm. The chameleons have adapted to walk on these perches, with forest chameleons potentially having bigger hands, their appendages might be different lengths or their gaits differ. To understand this, we carefully made the chameleons run across vertical and horizontal dowel rods of differing thickness. Her team of scientists are interested in their adaptions and have many unanswered questions that they are still investigating. Our chameleons were not initially going to be included in the study because she feared she would not find enough of them. However, since we did find some during her last visit, she decided to incorporate them into the study.
Her team has found that the closest relative to the Knysna dwarf chameleon is a species of undescribed dwarf chameleon that they have nicknamed the Beardless dwarf chameleon, found in the fynbos biome adjacent to the Knysna forest. According to Krystal, the Grootvadersbosch chameleon belongs to the same group as the Knysna dwarf chameleon, though through a distant relation.
Hopefully our chameleon will soon have its own official name!
Jonathan Barry, son of the late Henri Barry, was born in Swellendam and grew up on Lismore farm in the Grootvadersbosch Valley. He went to school in Swellendam and then completed 5 years of degrees and diplomas in the Information Technology field. He moved to England for work and then returned to Cape Town. In 2017, he got married and moved back to Lismore farm. Jonathan and Henri had been growing the business ever since.
Jonathan Barry was recently selected to be on the board of directors for the Sentraal-Suid Co-operative (SSK). Jonathan was honoured to have been nominated and then chosen for a position. He was one of four nominees that were competing for three available seats on the board of directors. Members of the SSK were given the chance to vote on a poll that was open for 48hrs. Jonathan feels very honoured to have been selected for this position, he explained that the other nominees were amazing people, leaders and very capable in their work. He feels that he is a part of the farming community. He says he now must ensure that he does not let SSK down. He hopes to continue the great work that the board has done. The Grootvadersbosch Conservancy congratulates him and is very proud to have a member in such a prestigious position!
Jonathan and Henri worked together to create a conservation conscious farm. Clearing aliens is a task that is especially important, and they have worked hard to eliminate them. The farm is 2600 hectares and 1100 hectares of that is mountainous area. Their large area of natural territory has encouraged their alien clearing efforts. As with many members, the biggest frustration is the speed at which clearing takes place, due to government red tape, but this has not hindered his attempts at clearing. Jonathan especially wants people to understand that alien plants affect the entire community. More aliens mean less water for our homes. He wants everyone to understand this and try their best to eliminate them.
In the last 10 years, the farm has tried to reduce fertilizers and chemicals. They have done this successfully and have reduced their Glyphosate load by 50%, which is quite incredible. They also purchase soil microorganisms for their fields to increase the soil’s health. He explained that to be truly organic or completely bio-friendly would be impossible, there are too many people that need to be fed and farms would not be able to keep up with the demand. They have a no-till approach to minimise disturbance on the soil. He explained that if you keep the soil healthy, it will do what you need it to do. He described the issue in communication between the outside world and farmers. Jonathan has the feeling that the outside world does not understand what is going on in agriculture and are often too quick to judge.
Jonathan stated that a lot of what they do on the farm is because of his father, Henri Barry. He explained that Henri had a massive passion for the environment and the people in the valley. Henri made sure that his business was transparent so that his children could learn and understand how the farm operated, they were given great responsibly. When Henri passed away, the farm continued the same, nothing really changed because he had involved them so much in its day-to-day running.
Finally, he explained that the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy is a role model conservancy, and the work it does is amazing. John, Henri, and everyone else who pioneered it, worked hard to make it what it is today.
GVB Conservancy Staff