Nine Venomous Rare Vipers Born in St. Louis


On August 16 at the St. Louis Zoo, nine venomous rare vipers were born. The snakes are ocellate mountain vipers, which had erroneously been considered to be extinct for 140 years before 1983, when they were rediscovered, rare but very much alive, in Eastern Turkey (the site says they were found in Northern Turkey).

The orange-brown spotted vipers live in mountainous regions of Eastern Turkey. In the United States, the ocellate mountain vipers are found in just three zoos. The nine snakes are a valued addition to  the St. Louis Zoo, and their arrival was much anticipated. The St. Louis Zoo now has the greatest number of these particular snakes of any zoo in the United States.

As the Curator of Herpetology & Aquatics Jeff Ettling stated:

There are only three zoos in the United States that maintain that species and we have the largest number. There are a total of 28 of them in the country and we have 23 right here, which includes the nine new babies.”

For the time being, the snakes will reside in a part of the zoo called the “highly venomous viper room.” Jeff Ettling often has cause to warn zoo guests not to put their hands or arms “up against the top of the enclosure” due to the fact that the vipers “have fangs that hinge outwards.” The fangs can, according to Ettling, “go right through the screen if they want to,” so that the vipers “can get you even though you’re on the outside of the enclosure.”

Before a pair of German entomologists rediscovered the vipers in Eastern Turkey, herpetologists (scientists who study snakes) thought that they used to live in Iran before they died out. When they were rediscovered, collectors of exotic and rare snakes tried to locate as many of the vipers as they could to sell to collectors and zoos around the world.

These endeavors, according to a spokesperson att he St. Louis Zoo, pose “a serious threat for the future survival of the species, which has already been wiped out in much of its very small range.”

Though the vipers can be dangerous, like any pit viper, Ettling says he wants to be the “champion of a species that are so maligned and has a bad rap.” He adds that his goal is “to change those attitudes of people.”

Scientists now know that the ocellate mountain viper exists, despite having been thought to be extinct; but, the vipers are still rare, and are being hunted out of existence in the natural habitat in Turkey.

While it’s true that snakes might not be as cute and cuddly-looking as other animals that have caught the public’s attention of late, like baby pandas, the nine venomous vipers that were born in the St. Louis Zoo are rapidly becoming fan favorites there.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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