A new species of bush viper has been discovered in Tanzania. Named, Matilda's Horned Viper (Atheris matildae), the snake looks like the Usambara bush viper (Atheris ceratophora) but is considerably larger and differs in scalation. Matilda's Horned Viper was found in a remote montane forest fragment in Tanzania's South West.
According to Wildlife Conservation Society researcher, Dr Tim Davenport and his team, "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. We have estimated an extent of occurrence considerably smaller than 100 km2 and a quality of habitat in continuing decline."
Because wildlife trade poses a real threat, the team decided to keep the locality of their finding as vague as possible. Global wildlife trade, both legal and illegal, is estimated to be around R1 234 billion a year. Reptiles are especially sought after, and many of Africa's species in the wild and their habitat are threatened.
"It is often the case that the first few specimens of a newly discovered bush viper can be worth a high price and this can have a very damaging impact on the population, In the case of Matilda's Horned Viper, a sudden rush to collect as many specimens as possible could actually extirpate the species in the wild."
In addition to keeping mum on the locality, the team has also started a small breeding programme for the new viper in Tanzania.
This is to protect the new species from over-exploitation and to facilitate the conservation of its threatened habitat.
"We are planning to make available (gratis) the first few dozen offspring from the captive population, in order to provide the market with captive-bred specimens of the new species. 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."
The team will also apply to Cites to list the wild population in Appendix 1 and the captive population in Appendix 2. Regular updates of their progress and general information on Matilda's Horned Viper are at Atherismatildae.org.