New snake in Tanzania: Fierce, probably venomous
|Courtesy of Tim Davenport/WCS|
The world’s newest snake has menacing-looking yellow and black scales, dull green eyes and two spiky horns. And it’s named after a seven-year-old girl. Matilda’s Horned Viper was discovered in a small patch of southwest Tanzania about two years ago and was introduced last month as the world’s newest known snake species.
Tim Davenport, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Tanzania, was on the three-person team that discovered the spectacularly colored viper. Thanks to his daughter, the snake will always carry a family namesake.
“My daughter, who was five at the time, became fascinated by it and used to love spending time watching it and helping us look after it,” Davenport told The Associated Press. “We called it Matilda’s Viper at that stage … and then the name stuck.”
Only three new vipers have been discovered across Africa in the last three decades, making the find rare and important. The Wildlife Conservation Society is not revealing exactly where the snake lives so that trophy hunters can’t hunt it.
Its habitat, estimated at only a few square miles is already severely degraded from logging and charcoal manufacture. Davenport said he is not sure how many live in the wild, because snake counts are hard to do. The team expects the species will be classified as critically endangered. Twelve live in captivity and a breeding plan is being carried out.
Davenport, a Briton who has lived in Tanzania for 12 years, said that, while many people fear snakes, most are harmless and help keep rodent numbers down. Matilda’s horned viper can grow to 2 feet (65 centimeters) or bigger, he said.
“This particular animal looks fierce and probably is venomous (though bush viper bites are not fatal),” Davenport told AP via an Internet chat. “However, it is actually very calm animal and not at all aggressive. I have handled one on a number of occasions.”
The Wildlife Conservation Society runs the Bronx Zoo and the Central Park Zoo in New York, and Davenport said it would be a “great option” to showcase the new horned viper at one of those locations, but that nothing has yet been decided.
The discovery is described in the December 2011 issue of Zootaxa. Authors of the study include: Michele Menegon of Museo delle Scienze of Trento, Italy; Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society; and Kim Howell of the University of Dar es Salaam.
On the Internet: http://www.atherismatildae.org
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press