Preserving Wildlife

Saving the Golden Lancehead Snake from Dire Straights

Less than 7% of the original Brazilian Atlantic Forest remains and this forest has one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world. It is estimated that 30% of South American snakes and lizards are endemic to this habitat. One of these species is the golden lancehead snake that inhabits the Queimada Grande Island.

The golden lancehead is listed as critically endangered by IUCN due to its highly restricted range and the continuing decline in habitat quality. There are indications that the lancehead population has decreased in the last 15 years, probably due to collection of snakes for the illegal animal trade and natural disasters such as wildfire.

The objectives of this project are: to estimate population size through capture-mark-recapture techniques; to document the health status of snakes by parasite screening, hemogram, blood chemistry exams and serologic tests; to study reproductive parameters by developing a spermiogram, recording the ovarian cycle by ultrasound and monitoring steroids hormone profiles over all seasons; to study ecological aspects such as habitat requirements, home range size and dispersal patterns using radiotelemetry techniques. 

The first captive breeding colony was establish in 2009 at the Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Evolution of Butantan Institute with 20 snakes.  This group has grown to 34 animals with the birth of 14 offspring.

In 2011 a studbook was created by a San Diego Zoo Global collaborator in Brazil to help manage the captive population and we hope to start another colony at the Animal Reproduction Laboratory at the University Cruzeiro do Sul in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  In addition, 6 first-generation captive bred snakes may one day form the nucleus of a third assurance colony at the San Diego Zoo.

This project fills many of the urgent conservation needs for the critically endangered golden lancehead. We believe that increasing research and educational outreach among local population will decrease illegal activities in the island. A better understanding of population dynamics and factors affecting this species will help us establish more direct actions for golden lancehead conservation.