gaboon viper


A recent study suggests that climate breakdown will drive the migration of venomous snake species into new regions and unprepared countries.

The research forecasts that Nepal, Niger, Namibia, China, and Myanmar will gain the most venomous snake species from neighbouring regions as the climate warms.

According to the findings published in Lancet Planetary Health, low-income countries in South and Southeast Asia, along with parts of Africa, will face heightened risks of snake bites.

The study modelled the geographical distribution of 209 venomous snake species known to cause medical emergencies, predicting where these snakes might thrive by 2070.

While many venomous snake species will see their habitats shrink due to the loss of tropical and subtropical ecosystems, some will experience significant range expansions. The habitat of the West African gaboon viper, for instance, is projected to grow by up to 250%. Similarly, the ranges of the European asp and the horned viper are expected to more than double by 2070.

Conversely, species like the variable bush viper in Africa and the hognosed pit viper in the Americas could lose over 70% of their habitats.

“As more land is converted for agriculture and livestock rearing, it destroys and fragments the natural habitats that snakes rely on,” said study authors Pablo Ariel Martinez at the Federal University of Sergipe in Brazil and Talita F Amado at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig, Germany.

“However, some generalist snake species, especially those of medical concern, can adapt to agricultural landscapes and even thrive in certain crop fields or livestock areas that provide food sources like rodents.”

“Our research shows that when venomous snakes start showing up in new places, it’s a wake-up call for us to start thinking about how we can keep ourselves and our environment safe,” the study authors said.

The World Health Organisation estimates that venomous snake bites affect 1.8 to 2.7 million people annually, resulting in up to 138,000 deaths and at least 400,000 amputations and permanent disabilities. In 2017, the WHO classified snakebite envenomation as a neglected tropical disease of the highest priority.

“We are now finally getting a better handle on how snakes will change their distributions with climate change but there is also a major concern that they will bite more people if warm temperatures, severe wet weather events, and flooding that displaces snakes and people get more frequent,” said Anna Pintor, a research scientist with the WHO’s neglected tropical diseases group. “We urgently need to understand better how exactly this will affect where people get bitten, and how many people get bitten, so that we can prepare.”

“Snakebite is in essence a human-animal-environment conflict. The modelling does not take into account how humans themselves will adapt/change to climate change. [But] the global study addresses a significant gap in knowledge,” said Soumyadeep Bhaumik, a medicine lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who was not involved in the study. “The need for countries with high [snakebite] burden to collaborate with neighbouring countries is something that the new study underlines.”

“After all, international borders are not for snakes, they are for humans,” he added.



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