ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – Nine venomous baby ocellate mountain vipers were born at the St. Louis Zoo this August. This is an impostant event for the species. It is native to Northen Turkey and was thought to be extinct for 140 years. It was rediscovered in 1983.
The snake has a pattern of orangish-brown spots. This helps the snake blend in to its natural mountainous surroundings.
European snake collectors have been scouping the snakes up ever since it was re-discovered. According to the St. Louis Zoo this can be a threat to the survival of the species.
Jeff Ettling is taking us into the St. Louis Zoo’s viper room, an area the public doesn’t get to see.
“But you’re fine right here,” says Jeff Ettling the Curator of Herpetology & Aquatics pointing to the various snake filled enclosures. “I mean this guy behind you is interested with all the activity going on in here.”
Ettling is excited to show us the latest baby bundles of joy, a litter of nine new Ocellate Mountain Vipers.
“There are only three zoos in the United States that maintain that species and we have the largest number,” says Ettling. “There are a total of 28 of them in the country and we have 23 right here, which includes the nine new babies.”
The rare endangered species were originally thought to only inhabit an area of northwestern Iran.
But the label was wrong on the museum specimen.
“For that reason they were thought to be extinct for 140 years,” says Ettling. “It wasn’t until 1983 that a couple German entomologists rediscovered them in Northeastern Turkey so they were off a little bit.”
The zoo’s breeding program is working to maintain this species.
These new sprouts will spend some time here in the viper room, a highly venomous room as Ettling reminds us.
“Please don’t put your arm up against the top of the enclosure because these guys have fangs that hinge outwards they can actually go right through the screen if they want to,” says Ettling. “So they can get you even though you’re on the outside of the enclosure.”
European and Turkish snake collectors nearly decimated the rare vipers.
But the zoo is working to save species and troubled ecosystems like these snakes, even if they’re not cute and cuddly, but small and slithery.
“To me being the champion of a species that are so maligned and has a bad rap,” says Ettling. “That’s kind of my goal to change those attitudes of people.”
Learn more: StLouisZoo.org