Out of Africa

The first comprehensive guide to East Africa's reptiles spans decades of research and generations of scientists.


What does it take to complete a field guide of hundreds of the most elusive, potentially dangerous species in East Africa, a mind-boggling mosaic of lush coastal rain forests, searing inland deserts, and snowy high-elevation alpine? "Thirty-two years of having a lot of fun," according to Academy herpetologist Robert Drewes, whose A Field Guide To The Reptiles of East Africa finally landed on bookstore shelves this spring as a reprint, after the first printing in winter immediately sold out.

From tortoises to lizards, crocodiles, and snakes, Reptiles combines striking photography with identification keys and detailed descriptions of all 400-plus species of East African reptiles. It also delves into the conservation and biology of reptiles, and offers natural history details for each species.

For Drewes, it all began in 1969 when he moved to East Africa to conduct research in the arid lands of Kenya. There he met all three coauthors, Stephen Spawls, Kim Howell, and James Ashe, at the National Museum's Nairobi Snake Park, and they have remained friends ever since. Since that initial yearlong stint, Drewes has returned to Africa for research on nearly 30 occasions.

He and his colleagues had to dig deep to complete the project. Some species haven't been seen alive since they were first described by biologists more than a century ago. To include these, the team searched through museum holdings around the world, including the original collections of Arthur Loveridge, the father of East African herpetology, whose records date back to the early 1900s.

Map by Colleen Sudukem


Reptiles authors (counter clockwise) Robert Drewes, Steve Spawls, James Ashe, and Kim Howell.

Flap-necked chameleon, Chamaeleo dilepis.
Photo: Bob Drewes
Northern Frontier District, Kenya, with termite mound on left. Photo: Bob Drewes, 1971.