Protecting Unpopular Organisms: A Single Voice for Global Viper Conservation

Maritz, Bryan

Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology

University of the Western Cape

Bellville, South Africa

Spear, Stephen

The Wilds

Cumberland, Ohio USA

Malhotra, Anita

School of Biological Sciences

Bangor University

Bangor, Gwynedd, UK

Vipers are among the most misunderstood and persecuted animals. Additionally, certain aspects of their biology (e.g., low fecundity and slow growth) have resulted in vipers being disproportionately threatened by extinction. The IUCN Viper Specialist Group (VSG) was initiated to unite viper specialists from around the globe to act as a global voice for implementing viper conservation. Recently, we reviewed the conservation status of vipers globally, mapped species richness, and develop three indices to identify species for which conservation action should be prioritised. We additionally mapped species richness weighted by each index to identify regions for conservation prioritisation and ranked prioritisation scores to identify species for which valuable data are missing and that should be prioritised for research. We showed that 17 species, currently listed as Not Assessed or Data Deficient by the IUCN, score sufficiently high on our Threat Index to be considered as Threatened in the future. The VSG continues to facilitate IUCN Red List assessments and revisions, drive taxonomic revisions of problematic lineages, and pursue conservation strategies to protect illegally collected and traded vipers. We continue to seek ways in which to drive viper conservation beyond the status quo. In doing so our work has extended to facilitation of on-the-ground conservation efforts in South Africa and Costa Rica and we hope to begin engaging with conservation issues faced by widespread but declining species that are not well-served by current conservation efforts. We close by emphasising that continued success requires support from the greater snake biology community on whom we rely for research, problem identification, and local contextualization.