Habitat loss for venomous snakes could attract them to unprepared parts of the world amid climate change, study finds

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In a study that looked at hundreds of venomous snake species and a list of habitats, researchers say they’ve discovered clues in models indicating a significant change in the geographical distribution of snake species into areas where human populations aren’t prepared. An international group of researchers say that if Earth hits 5 degrees Celsius warming, venomous snakes could migrate in large numbers.

One of the study authors, Professor Pablo Ariel Martinez, said the international community might be able to take steps now to prevent a potentially dangerous mass migration. Out of the venomous snakes that were mapped in the study, 43 species are from Africa.

The researchers looked at snakes classified by the World Health Organization into two main species categories: type one, is considered high risk and likely to cause death or a severe injury; type two, is considered to be low risk. 30 of the African snakes studied are considered to be type one, and 13 are considered to be type two.

WHO and authors in this latest study call these “medically relevant venomous snake species.” Researchers looked at 209 of these venomous snakes and models predicting migration by 2070. Researchers say substantial losses of suitable survivable habitats will happen.
The study authors wrote how climate change is “expected to have profound effects on the distribution of venomous snake species.”

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The researchers also found that in some areas, some snakes that risk the safety of humans could actually gain suitable habitats, including in countries like Niger, Namibia, China, Nepal and Myanmar. In these areas, multiple venomous snake species from neighboring geographical regions could migrate to those countries, increasing the number of venomous snakes.

Areas of southeast Asia and Africa could see an increase in venomous snake bites in countries on those continents, researchers say.

There’s a two part risk they say, where in some lower-income countries a loss of snake biodiversity could occur in the decades ahead, while climate change could also cause increased challenges for public health as snake species migrate. It was estimated that somewhere between 81,000 and 138,000 people die each year from snakebites. Estimates say around 400,000 people are left with permanent disabilities each year after snakebites.

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The researchers — made up of public health experts and ecologists from Brazil, Costa Rica, Spain and Germany — used mathematical models to predict where optimal climate conditions will exist for various snake species, as the years go by, approaching 2070.

One interesting note the researchers made is on how snake venom is used in making medications for various disorders and conditions — including for cancer, high blood pressure treatments and neurological diseases. The study found that if snakes migrate in large numbers from their original habitats, this could affect how countries develop treatments used for a number of disorders.





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