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New snake species, Matilda's Horned Viper, found in Tanzania (PHOTO)

Matilda's Horned Viper (Atheris matildae), named after a little girl, is a black-and-yellow snake with horns above its green eyes, but conservationists fear its exotic good looks could attract illegal pet traffickers.
New snake matildas horned viper 20120111Enlarge
A new snake species was discovered in southwest Tanzania. The snake is called Matilda's Horned Viper (Atheris matildae) after the 7-year-old daughter of Tim Davenport, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Tanzania one of the three people who discovered the viper. (Tim Davenport/WCS/Courtesy)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Meet the world's newest snake, a black-and-yellow viper with spiky horns above its green eyes.

Matilda's Horned Viper is the snake's name, in honor of the 7-year-old daughter of Tim Davenport, who was on the three-person team that discovered the snake in a remote forest in southwest Tanzania.

The 2.1-foot viper was discovered two years ago, but only just announced by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and published in an issue of the journal Zootaxa

But scientists are already worried about its survival. The authors of the Zootaxa article are keeping the exact location of Matilda's Horned Viper (Atheris matildae) a secret, fearing that illegal pet collectors could descend on the area.

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According to WCS and the Museo delle Scienze of Trento, Italy, in many parts of Africa, illegal wildlife trade, particularly of reptiles, is the biggest threat to the existence of many species in the wild.

The groups said on a website devoted to the new snake:

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.

WCS said the viper's habitat is only a few square miles and "already severely degraded from logging and charcoal manufacture."

 

Matilda's Horned Viper (Atheris matildae), the new snake discovered in Tanzania. Photo: Tim Davenport/WCS

 

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Scientists have already established a small captive breeding colony, and expect that the snake will be be classified as critically endangered. 

Tim Davenport, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Tanzania program, told the Associated Press how the snake's name came about:

"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. We called it Matilda's Viper at that stage... and then the name stuck."

According to the AP, only three new vipers have been discovered in Africa in the last three decades.

Davenport said that while Matilda's Horned Viper looks fierce, and is probably venomous, the animal is very calm to handle and not aggressive.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/new-snake-species-matilda-s-horned-viper-discovered-photo

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