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A horned snake named Matilda: New species found in Tanzania

- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

NAIROBI, KENYA The world's newest snake has menacing-looking yellow and black scales, dull green eyes and two spiky horns.

It's named after a 7-year-old girl.

Matilda's horned viper was discovered in a small area of southwestern Tanzania about two years ago and was introduced last month as the world's newest known snake species in an issue of Zootaxa.

Tim Davenport, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Tanzania, was on the three-person team that discovered the viper. Thanks to his daughter, the snake will always carry a family namesake.

"My daughter, who was 5 at the time, became fascinated by it and used to love spending time watching it and helping us look after it," Mr. Davenport told the Associated Press Wednesday. "We called it Matilda's viper at that stage ... and then the name stuck."

Just three new vipers have been discovered across Africa in the past three decades, making the find rare and important.

The Wildlife Conservation Society is not revealing exactly where the snake lives so trophy hunters can't hunt it.

Mr. Davenport said he is not sure how many live in the wild because snake counts are hard to do. Twelve live in captivity, and a breeding plan is being carried out.

Mr. Davenport, a Briton who has lived in Tanzania for 12 years, said that though many people fear snakes, most are harmless and help keep rodent numbers down.

Matilda's horned viper can grow to 2 feet or bigger, he said.

"This particular animal looks fierce and probably is venomous," though bush-viper bites are not fatal, Mr. Davenport told AP via an Internet chat. "However, it is actually a very calm animal and not at all aggressive. I have handled one on a number of occasions."

The Wildlife Conservation Society runs the Bronx Zoo and the Central Park Zoo in New York, and Mr. Davenport said it would be a "great option" to showcase the new horned viper at one of those locations, but nothing has been decided yet.

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