Despite the fear they put in many people, snakes are actually under threat in their own natural environment. Between the pressures caused by invasive species and the gradual destruction of their habitats, it’s no wonder that there are a number of snakes that are threatened with extinction.
Vipera wagneri, or the ocellated mountain viper, is a venomous viper found in northwest Iran and eastern Turkey. This snake lives at altitudes of over 1,500 meters (5,000 ft) and prefers rocky or grassy areas. In 2008, the status of the Wagner’s viper was changed to critically endangered as it was feared that the planned construction of a dam within its limited habitat range would devastate the viper’s population.
Numbers have also been declining due to many people capturing these snakes as pets. It is estimated that there are fewer than 2,500 adults left in the wild. Its name is derived from Moritz Wagner, a German explorer who collected the first documented specimen in 1846. Due to the threat of extinction to these snakes, the St. Louis Zoo incorporated them into their breeding program, with nine babies being born at the zoo in August 2013.
2. Alcatrazes Lancehead
This snake, whose scientific name is Bothrops alcatraz, is a critically endangered viper that lives on a small island off the southeastern coast of Brazil. This snake derives its name from the island that it lives on, Ilha de Alcatrazes, a tiny rock of only 1.35 square kilometers (0.5 mi2) that forms part of the Alcatrazes archipelago. This snake faces a unique threat to its continued survival—the island is frequently used as a naval target area, endangering the lives and habitat of these rare snakes.
The Alcatrazes lancehead belongs to the pit viper family, meaning that it has a heat-sensing organ in its head which it uses to locate its prey. And like all other pit vipers, it’s deadly poisonous. The exact numbers of surviving Alcatrazes lanceheads is unknown, although it has been noted that they are fairly common on the small island that they live on.
3. Santa Catalina Island Rattlesnake
The Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake, or Crotalus catalinensis, is a small, slender pit viper found only on the island of Santa Catalina in the Gulf of California. This rattlesnake is unique because of its lack of a functioning rattle. It is believed that this rattlesnake lost its rattle in an attempt to better adapt to its environment, allowing it to silently sneak up on birds in desert brush.
Their population is facing severe challenges due to the presence of feral cats, which prey on the snakes. Additionally, these relatively passive snakes have been the targets of killing and illegal collection, further placing it in danger. Also, with the decline of their main prey, the deer mouse, it is feared that populations of this rare snake may decline even further. However, it is hoped that a recently introduced program to reduce the number of feral cats on the island will go a long way toward the preservation of these snakes.