Kokerboom Biological Research Station - May 2023

The Dream

About seventeen years ago, while on a reptile photography trip with my good friends Paul Moler, Rob Deans, and the late Gordon Setaro, we spent a few days on the farm Ratelkraal near Springbok in Namaqualand. It was a very productive trip and we managed to photograph a wide variety of reptiles including Horned Adders, Many-horned Adders, Spotted Rock Snakes, Common Egg-eaters, Dwarf Beaked Snakes, Beetz’s Tiger Snakes, Cape Coral Snakes, and a variety of lizards including the Namaqualand Legless Skink, Namaqualand Dwarf Legless Skink, Karoo Girdled Lizard, Dwarf Plated Lizard, Quartz Gecko, Barking Geckos, Namaqua Day Geckos, and the list goes on and on.

I jokingly said to Paul that with Namaqualand being such a reptile paradise, we need to purchase a farm and turn it into a dedicated biological research centre. In subsequent years we often discussed this idea of a farm near Springbok, but it was an ambitious dream.

Ab Abercrombie, Johan Marais and Paul Moler


About a year back I mentioned to Paul that I had found a farm near Springbok that could work as a reptile research farm and his response was: “send me bank details and I will transfer my share of the money”. The farm in question was not quite suitable but it was the trigger and I started looking for the ultimate farm. During a visit to Namaqualand to look at a few farms we stayed at the farm Skeur, which belonged to our neighbours Hendrik and Maudi Botha. Upon our return to Pretoria, Hendrik asked whether we had found what we were looking for and I said no – but mentioned that his farm was perfect. He had not seriously considered selling his farm but they had moved back to Pretoria and a few days later, over a cappuccino, we did a deal. The farm is stunning – close to Springbok, lots of magnificent rock outcrops and isolated – no noise pollution and ideal for reptiles. With the generous help of Paul and Ab and Chrissy Abercrombie, we scraped together some money, and the deal was done.
The farm was purchased for R3,6M ($195,000 USD) and we managed to raise R2,9M ($156,000 USD) and have 18 months to settle the balance.

The Kokerboom Biological Research Station has been registered as a non-profit company (2022/393739/08) and with 18A registration (930075693) which enables corporates and individuals to get a tax break if money or donations in-kind is donated toward the project. We are three directors – Paul Moler, Prof Graham Alexander of the University of Witwatersrand, and me. None of us will earn any salary or income from the project.
As the farm is in a non-profit company, none of us own any of it, and should the project come to an end, the farm will be donated to Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences of the University of Witwatersrand. This project is a first for South Africa – a private initiative to create an environment largely for research in the various fields of natural history and geology.
The main objective is to provide an affordable environment for undergraduate and post-graduate students to do their field work on the Kokerboom Biological Research Station.
As the farm has pristine rock outcrops with various reptiles, mammals, birds, unique plants (especially succulents), and invertebrates, a variety of natural history students can be accommodated.

Sunset over Kokerboom Biological Research Station

The way forward

The 850-hectare farm is situated roughly 5 km west of Springbok in Namaqualand and is surrounded by rocky hills with pristine Namaqualand vegetation. It has six boreholes with ample water, and the main house has solar power and gas for the stove and geysers.

The farm house nestled beteween the rocky outcrops.

There are many challenges – we need to do a lot of work on the farm: remove internal fences and loads of scrap metal, ploughed lands need to be rehabilitated to their original condition, fences need to be mended, and student accommodation is required. We will be altering some existing farm buildings but ultimately hope to construct suitable student accommodation.

The farm is managed by Theuns Eloff who has a background in conservation and animal management as well as being skilled in construction, welding, electrical installations, and maintenance.

The farm manager Theuns, removing invasive vegetation on Kokerboom.

Immediate needs

Current running costs of the farm, including gas, salaries, and miscellaneous expenses, are covered for the next twelve months. The idea is to charge students a minimal fee for accommodation, which will cover water, electricity, gas, and Wi-Fi. It will be self-catering accommodation with a kitchen, lounge, and laundry.

The end of winter marks the bloom of the Namaqualand flower season on Kokerboom Biological Research Station.

The Future

We have a long way to go with this ambitious project. We need farm equipment, solar water pumps, kitchen supplies, and a great deal more (see https://kokerboom.org/donations/).

Student Accommodation

Rob Deans has kindly done some preliminary drawings of a student unit that will accommodate up to twelve students at a time. It will have six double rooms with ensuite bathrooms, a kitchen, Wi-Fi, lounge, dining room, and laundry. All bathrooms and stoves will run off gas, while the unit will have solar power. Estimated cost of the completed unit will be close on R 2 000 000 ($120,000 USD).

A selection of reptiles documented on Kokerboom so far.

Top left – Black Spitting Cobra. Top right – Dwarf Plated Lizard.
Bottom left – Bug-eyed House Snake. Bottom right – Karoo Sand Snake.


We are very excited about the Kokerboom Biological Research Station and its future and are now raising funds for the student unit and necessary equipment. Furthermore, we are planning a laboratory where students will be able to conduct basic research and experimental work. Once permits are organised, we intend to house a small museum collection of reptiles collected from roadkills in the area. These can then be used for genetics and morphology or reproductive and dietary research. Additionally, we are accumulating natural history books and field guides to create a basic library for researchers.

We have already had a number of generous donations of kitchen utensils and other equipment as well as a few boxes of books. If you would like to contribute towards this initiative or know any companies or organisations that would be interested in this project, please feel free to pass on the details.
The future of Kokerboom Biological Research Station relies heavily on kind-hearted people and companies/organisations and we are seeking donations. We will keep you updated of our progress.

Banking details for donations:

Kokerboom Biological Station NPC
FNB Woodlands
Bank Code 250655
Current Account
Account Number: 63002233756

The next generation of Namaqua Caco (Cacosternum namaquense) from a breeding pool on Kokerboom.

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