Courtesy of meaduva
A new species of bush viper has been discovered by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Museo delle Scienze of Trento in southern Tanzania.
The newly named Matilda’s Horned Viper (Atheris matildae) is a brightly coloured, venomous snake measuring up to 60cm in length and has horn-like scales above its eyes. The snake, named after the daughter of Tim Davenport, director of WCS, is a close relative to the smaller Usambara bush viper and is thought to have diverged into a new species approximately 2.2 million years ago. Found in an isolated mountain forest in the south western region of Tanzania, scientists estimate the natural range for the Horned Viper to be less than 100Km, which according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) affords the species a ‘critically endangered’ status.
The exotic pet trade, for which snakes are particularly popular, is the second largest illegal trade in the world after narcotics and is worth an estimated US $159 billion per year. The exact location of the discovery is therefore being kept a closely guarded secret in an attempt to decrease the potential risk of poaching from illegal traders and collectors. Brightly coloured Atheris vipers have been attractive targets in the past and the discovery of a new species could result in a sudden scramble to locate and remove many specimens from their natural habitat. Any attempt to remove large numbers of individuals from the wild could severely damage existing populations, perhaps to the extent where they may not recover.
The very apparent risk of the illegal pet trade, as well as habitat loss and disease, has since led scientists to install a small scale breeding programme to protect the viper’s existence. On top of raising awareness for community based conservation, the main aim of the breeding programme is to provide the pet trade with captive bred specimens. This scheme is designed to discourage the poaching of snakes from the wild and to also encourage captive breeding by traders in countries where the animals are in highest demand. If successful it is anticipated that the programme will slow down access to the site by traders, reduce the market price on the vipers and move the focus of traders away from wild caught individuals towards captive bred snakes. Initiatives such as this, confirms WCS’ commitment to changing people’s attitudes towards nature and helping wildlife and humans to live in harmony.
By Tim Allen