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#Natureology Species of the Day – Matilda’s Horned Viper (Atheris matildae)

January 17, 2013

matildas-horned-viper

Matilda’s Horned Viper (Atheris matildae) is a species of arboreal forest viper discovered in the southern highlands of Tanzania during a 2010–2011 biological survey. The exact location of the viper is unspecified, to protect it from being collected for the illegal pet trade.

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Biology

Matilda’s Horned Viper is known just from a remote montane forest fragment in Tanzania’s South West. The site probably represents the remnant of a wider forested landscape, interspersed with plateau grasslands and possibly naturally isolated from other forest blocks. It is therefore probable that the viper is a highly range-restricted forest species.

This Atheris species is to some degree, arboreal and share a similar
morphology with other species of it’s genus; poses a relatively slender body, large broad head, and a prehensile tail and is most likely a nocturnal hunter, waiting by streams to ambush frogs but little is known yet about its ecology and biology of this newly discovered species but further conservation and biological research is planned for the this flagship species for conservation of the threatened biodiverse rich forest of Tanzania.

The viper was named after Matilda, the daughter of Tim Davenport, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Tanzania and a member of the three-person team to have discovered the snake.

Threats

Conservationist have estimated an extent of occurrence considerably smaller than 100 km2 and a quality of habitat in continuing decline. According to IUCN guidelines (IUCN, 2010) therefore, it should be listed as ‘critically endangered’ CR-B1b(i,ii,iii) and is likely to occurs in only one or a very few isolated forest fragments and be of very considerable conservation concern.

Conservation

Conservationist have kept the exact location of where the specie was discovered as a secret because of the global trade in illegally wild-caught amphibians and reptiles for the pet trade may ultimately lead to the extinction of this newly discovered endangered snake which are particularly sought after by wildlife collectors.

This species is found within a fragmented habitat that is threatened by high rates of degradation and deforestation, due to agriculture, logging and increasing human population. Population and habitat research and population monitoring are necessary to establish the effects that a fragmented, disturbed environment is having on the population size of the species.

Conservationist have initiated a small breeding programme for the new viper in Tanzania. This is intended not only as ‘insurance population’ to protect the new species from overexploitation, but also to facilitate the conservation of its threatened habitat so that this unique animal can persist in the wild.  The aim is to avoid collection of wild caught specimens, lower the price of the animal and encourage responsible captive breeding by keepers in the most highly demanding countries.

The ultimate goal is also to raise awareness and support for an in situ community-based forest conservation programme, including community support, education and forest management. Matilda’s Horned Viper will, it is hoped, be a flagship species for the initiative.

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