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‘Beautiful’ new snake discovered in Cambodia (photo)

New species: the Cambodian kukri. Photo by: Photo: Neang Thy/FFI.
New species: the Cambodian kukri. Photo by: Photo: Neang Thy/FFI.

Scientists have discovered a new snake species in the biodiverse rainforests of the Cardamom Mountains, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI). The new reddish-hued serpent has been named after its country of origin by native herpetologist Neang Thy: the Cambodian kukri (Oligodon kampucheaensis).

“Cambodian science was smashed under the Pol Pot regime, and only now are we picking up the pieces. It gave me a great sense of pride to both discover and describe this species, and to name it in honor of my country,” Thy, a Ministry of Environment officer who also works with FFI, said in a press release. Last year, Thy discovered a new species of legless lizard, also in the Cardamom Mountains.

He adds that, “Most kukri snakes are dull-colored, but this one is dark red with black and white rings, making it a beautiful snake.”

Kukri snakes are named after distinctive daggers from Nepal, due to the similarity between the knives’ shapes and the kukri snakes’ fangs. Harmless to humans, kukri snakes use their fangs to puncture eggs, which they then swallow whole.

Spreading over some 2 million hectares (5 million acres), the Cardamom Mountains include some of the best rainforest remaining in Indo-China as well as startling biodiversity, including some 250 bird species. Rare animals such as Malayan sun bears, Indochinese tigers, pileated gibbons, and Siamese crocodiles inhabit the region (see more below). The largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia, numbering about a hundred individuals, also roams the forest.

However, the rainforest is imperiled by deforestation, including the ever-present threat of land concessions for monoculture plantations. Recently the Cambodian government has announced it would not be granting any new economic land concessions—which have cut out swathes of forest for plantation even in protected areas—but since then has announced several concessions.

“The Cambodian kukri snake is the second new reptile we have described this year in Cambodia,” said Berry Mulligan, FFI’s Cambodia Program Country Manager. “This shows how important it is that we fight to conserve this area.”

A selection of endangered species found in the Cardamom Mountains according to the IUCN Red List:

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