They may not be considered cute, but the nine venomous vipers born at the Saint Louis Zoo are a treasured addition to the facility’s family.
Nine ocellate mountain vipers born Aug. 16 belong to a species that was believed to be extinct for 140 years until it was discovered in Eastern Turkey in 1983, KTVI reports. The snakes with their distinctive orange-brown spots live in only three zoos in the United States.
“There are only three zoos in the United States that maintain that species and we have the largest number,” Jeff Ettling the Curator of Herpetology & Aquatics said. “There are a total of 28 of them in the country and we have 23 right here, which includes the nine new babies.”
The babies will spend time in the highly venomous viper room. “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,” Ettling told KTVI. “So they can get you even though you’re on the outside of the enclosure.”
Originally, the species was believed to inhabit an area in northwestern Iran. It was only when they were rediscovered in northeastern Turkey by a couple of German entomologists did snake collectors rush to catch as many as they could.
“This is a serious threat for the future survival of the species, which has already been wiped out in much of its very small range,” according to the Saint Louis Zoo which participates in a conservation program to save the species.
Despite their dangerous reputation, Ettling says it’s his goal to dispel any misconceptions about the rare species. “To me being the champion of a species that are so maligned and has a bad rap,” he said. “That’s kind of my goal to change those attitudes of people.”