Beginning this year and continuing until 2008, South Africa's reptiles will be the object of close scrutiny. With over 360 species of reptiles, more than 35 percent of which are only found here, South Africa is estimated to have about five times more reptile species than would be expected for a country of this size. The South African Reptile Conservation Assessment (SARCA) is funded and developed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi).
The Avian Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town will co-ordinate the project as they have previously done for atlases of birds and frogs in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. The public can help the project by sending in digital photographs of any reptiles they see, along with accurate locality information. Photos suitable for identification purposes will be included in a virtual museum, available on the project's website.
SARCA project coordinator James Harrison has said, "It is astonishing how much valuable and useful information can be gathered by the public if their contributions are organised appropriately. The bird and frog atlas projects proved this." The last reptile assessment was carried out 16 years ago and is now outdated.
The new project will be carried out according to international guidelines, and used to inform policy makers. Kristal Maze, Biodiversity, Policy and Planning Director of Sanbi has said, "This information is essential for identifying priorities for conservation action, which are likely to include regulation of collection for the pet trade and minimising habitat loss."