Climate change is likely to lead to a large-scale migration of venomous snake species into new regions and countries, which are currently unprepared to face such an emergency. This is revealed by a study published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal. According to researchers’ predictions, Nepal, Niger, Namibia, China, and Myanmar will acquire the highest number of venomous snake species from neighboring areas as the climate becomes warmer. Consequently, the results indicate that low-income countries in South and Southeast Asia, as well as some parts of Africa, will be highly vulnerable to an increase in snakebites. The study modeled the geographic distribution of 209 venomous snake species, known to cause medical emergencies in humans, in order to understand where different snake species might find favorable climatic conditions by 2070.

While most venomous snake species will experience a contraction in their range due to the loss of tropical and subtropical ecosystems, the habitats of some species, such as the West African Gaboon viper, will increase by up to 250%. It is also estimated that the ranges of the European adder and the horned viper will double by 2070. However, some snakes, including the bush viper endemic to Africa and the pit viper of the Americas, are predicted to lose more than 70% of their range. “The conversion of an increasing number of lands for agriculture and livestock farming destroys and fragments the natural habitats upon which snakes rely,” said Pablo Ariel Martinez of the Federal University of Sergipe in Brazil and Talita F Amado of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig, Germany, both authors of the study. “However,” added the experts, “some generalist snake species, especially those of medical interest, can adapt to agricultural landscapes and even thrive in certain cultivated fields or livestock areas that provide food sources such as rodents.”

“Our research demonstrates that when venomous snakes appear in new locations, it’s a wake-up call for humans, who need to start thinking about how to keep themselves and the environment safe,” said the study’s authors. The World Health Organization estimates that between 1.8 and 2.7 million people are bitten by venomous snakes each year, with up to 138,000 deaths and at least 400,000 amputations and permanent disabilities. In 2017, WHO classified snakebite envenoming as a neglected tropical disease of highest priority.

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