New snake looks fierce, has horns

2012-01-11 17:38
A Matilda's Horned Viper is photographed in a forest habitat in Tanzania. (Tim Davenport, Wildlife Conservation Society, AP)

A Matilda's Horned Viper is photographed in a forest habitat in Tanzania. (Tim Davenport, Wildlife Conservation Society, AP)

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Nairobi - 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 7-year-old girl.

Matilda's Horned Viper was discovered in a small patch of southwest Tanzania about two years ago and was introduced in December as the world's newest known snake species in an issue of Zootaxa.

Tim Davenport, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Tanzania, was on the three-person team that discovered the viper. Thanks to his daughter, the snake will always carry a family namesake.

"My daughter, who was 5 at the time, became fascinated by it and used to love spending time watching it and helping us look after it," Davenport said on Wednesday. "We called it Matilda's Viper at that stage... and then the name stuck."

Only three new vipers have been discovered across Africa 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.

Zoo

Davenport said he is not sure how many live in the wild because snake counts are hard to do. 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 65cm or bigger, he said.

"This particular animal looks fierce and probably is venomous [though bush viper bites are not fatal]," Davenport said.

"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.
- AP
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