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Snake decline likely in America, too, say biologists

The drastic snake decline seen across five countries in Europe and Africa is likely happening in America as well, says Dr. Rafe Brown of the University of Kansas.

By Correspondent / June 10, 2010

An eastern diamond back rattlesnake coils itself to strike during the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo in Opp, Ala., March 26. The snake decline reported this week across Europe and Africa could well be happening in America, too.

Dave Martin/AP

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The snake decline reported this week across Europe and Africa could well be happening in America as well, say biologists.

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“If you get your average herpetologists together, you’d probably arrive at a consensus that a lot of scientists feel that even across their own lifetimes there are negative changes in terms of population,” says Rafe Brown, chief curator of herpetology at the University of Kansas. “It’s clear that overall the trends are not good and we’re looking at pretty serious declines.”

“The bottom line,” Dr. Brown adds in a telephone interview Thursday, "is that few of these species can survive when 99 percent of their habitat has been turned into subdivisions."

IN PICTURES: Most dangerous snakes

The journal Biology Letters on June 9 published a finding that 11 of 17 snake populations in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Nigeria plunged between 1998 and 2002, before stabilizing at a new, lower level. Some populations fell by as much as 90 percent, according to the study from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in England, which collected data between 1987 and 2009.

The report's lead author, Chris Reading, says he hopes that his study, the world's first global study on snake populations, will spark more herpetologists worldwide to examine their own data, including in America.

“People are concerned in the United States,” Dr. Reading says in a telephone interview Thursday from England. "It wouldn’t surprise me if it is [declining], but we don’t know.”

'Picture may be worse than it looks'

There are now 1,677 reptiles on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, with 293 added this year. Of these, 469 are threatened with extinction and 22 are already thought to be extinct or extinct in the wild.

“The world’s reptiles are undoubtedly suffering, but the picture may be much worse than it currently looks,” Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, said in a press statement. “We need an assessment of all reptiles to understand the severity of the situation but we don’t have the $2-3 million to carry it out.”

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