Through the Save The Snakes Support Grant Program, Save The Snakes supported Fredrick Ojija in 2023 to research and protect the critically endangered Matilda’s horned viper and reduce human-snake conflict in Tanzania.
Protecting the endangered Tanzanian Matilda’s Horned Viper
The Mount Rungwe Nature Forest Reserve (MRNFR) is home to an endemic and critically endangered snake species called Matilda’s Horned Viper (Atheris matildae). In addition to the international pet trade, which has severely impacted and reduced its already small population, anthropogenic change has increased the Horned Vipers extinction risk in the wild. Illegal collection for the pet trade is a serious problem in Tanzania due to the high number of attractive and endemic species and limited law enforcement. This is driven by a particularly high demand for rare reptiles and amphibians around the world.
Currently, the population and its habitats are heavily threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation and forest degradation, coupled with limited conservation initiatives to protect the species. These anthropogenic deeds potentially affect natural processes driving A. matildae reproduction as they alter and destroy foraging and breeding sites of the species in MRNFR. Also, limited awareness about Matilda’s Horned Vipers and its conservation among local communities and conservation practitioners intensifies its extinction risks. Hence, the project aims to promote A. matildae conservation, raise awareness, build capacity among conservation practitioners to protect the species, reduce human-snake conflict, and identify priority areas for conservation to help restore its population.
Aims and Objectives:
The Mount Rungwe Nature Forest Reserve (MRNFR) is a vital nature reserve in Tanzania that safeguards an endemic and critically endangered snake species, Matilda’s Horned Viper (Atheris matildae). Despite the MRNFR being a key to the conservation of residual tropical montane forests and endemic and critically endangered A. matildae, its ecological integrity is imperiled by human activities. Anthropogenic change and habitat loss, coupled with persistent deforestation and forest degradation (DD), represent the main threats to the population in MRNFR as they potentially alter and affect natural processes driving the species reproduction. In addition to anthropogenic activities, limited conservation initiatives to protect the species and inadequate conservation education and awareness among local communities increase species extinction risk.
Despite these threats, and based on our knowledge, there is a limited conservation effort to protect A. matildae and its habitat range in the nature reserve. Further, there is no conservation education campaign that has been carried out in local communities surrounding MRNFR to sensitize people about the conservation of the species. Similarly, there is no recent study that has been conducted to assess ecological habitats and the population status of Matilda’s Horned Vipers in MRNFR.
Thus, the primary aim of the project is to promote A. matildae conservation and secure its future population and habitat. The project will specifically identify its habitat ranges, protect it from human activities to help restore its population, assess its ecology and population status, and educate local people about the species to reduce human-snake conflict.
The project will contribute towards the conservation of Matilda’s Horned Vipers and reduce its extinction risk in MRNFR by improving its ecological habitats and raising species conservation awareness through an education campaign, and assess and update the current populations and ecological habitat status of A. matildae in the MRNFR. The population and ecological habitat in the MRNFR will be used as the baseline for conserving the species. This information will further enable stakeholders, including conservators, to direct their management efforts to areas with high human activity that threaten the habitats and survival of Matilda’s Horned Vipers.
Moreover, factors threatening habitats in NMFs will be assessed, identified, and used to plan management actions to stop their associated effects. This work will achieve the following specific objectives: to assess the population status of A. matildae in MRNFR, assess their ecological habitat condition in MRNFR, identify the priority areas for conservation, and raise awareness and build capacity among local communities and conservation practitioners to protect Matilida’s Horned Vipers.
Support Snake Conservation
Fredrick Ojija’s project is a recipient of the 2023 Save The Snakes Support Grant Program. Save The Snakes Support Grants are made possible because of the generosity of compassionate people and organizations who are inspired and dedicated to protect threatened snake populations and mitigate human-snake conflict around the world. Please donate today to help us continue to fund projects like their snake conservation project in Tanzania. Thank you for your support.