Friday, May 6, 2011

Bush Viper and Mount Kenya Bush Viper Population

The Bush Viper and Mount Kenya bush viper meets the criteria for listing on Appendix II. This large, thick-bodied arboreal viper is found only in the forests of high central Kenya. Only two populations are known, one around Igembe in the northern Nyambeni range, and one at Chuka on the south-eastern side of Mount Kenya (Spawls et al, 2002). Both areas, which are not protected, have suffered from extensive habitat degradation due to logging and agricultural activities. The population status of the Bush Viper and Mount Kenya bush viper is unknown, but researchers believe it is becoming increasingly rare. Numbers are strongly suspected to be declining due to trade and habitat degradation.

The analysis of the listing proposal by IUCN and TRAFFIC concludes that “It is possible that collection for export has at least a local impact on wild populations and may not be sustainable when coupled with habitat loss and degradation.” An illegal trade exists, but data is sparse and difficult to obtain. An investigation into reptile trade in Kenya conducted between 2001 and 2002 found the Mount Kenya bush viper was among many species being smuggled out of the country (Reeve/IFAW, 2002). There were shipments of several Atheris species to the USA between 1997 and 2000 using fraudulent permits obtained by a foreign national who was later deported. US import statistics for this period record 50 unspecified Atheris individuals imported from Kenya in five shipments.

Bush viper
 Documentation seized in Kenya covering 6 months shows 27 individuals of Atheris desaixi were exported, while only US import data only records 4 unspecified individuals imported during this period. Thus several imports were unrecorded in the US import data, indicating that trade was higher than reported. The Kenyan investigation found this snake to be the third most frequently traded snake. In a seizure of 38 reptiles from Kenyan nationals in November 1999, 17 were Mount Kenya bush vipers. The IUCN/TRAFFIC analysis states that this snake is “ known to be in demand overseas and to feature in international trade.” Individuals claimed to be captive reared are currently being advertised for sale on the internet at US$1,200.

Bush Viper and Mount Kenya Bush Viper

Control of this trade from Kenya is very difficult. Legislation is not adequate since the species is not listed on the Schedule of the Wildlife Act of Kenya. Enforcement is under-resourced and reptiles are not a high priority. Appendix II listing will assist Kenya with controlling the markets. Kenya believes an Appendix III listing will not be sufficient to control the markets and protect the species.


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