Record number of Gaboon adders born in Dangerous Creatures exhibit

Two of the nearly 50 Gaboon adders born at the end of February 2014 

A slither of 47 young snakes greeted herpetologists who arrived for work recently at uShaka Sea World’s Dangerous Creatures exhibit.

Although staff knew one of their West African Gaboon adders (Bitis rhinoceros) was pregnant, they were prepared for less than half the number of miniature replicas she delivered.

In February 2013, the same female gave birth to five young adders, which is normal for a first cluster, so she was expected to follow normal birthing patterns by increasing her brood by up to 200%. 

Gaboon adders give birth to live young that are perfectly formed and independent from birth. Survival in the wild is difficult for young snakes left on their own due to predators such as owls, rodents, mongooses and many other creatures looking for a tasty meal. 

Fortunately for the snakes they are also born with a powerful defence mechanism against predation and are able to inject a cytotoxic venom capable of killing a human.

Gaboon adders are ambush predators by nature and never move unless absolutely essential. It is well documented that these adders can remain in the same spot for up to a year without moving more than a metre.  

It was probably this knowledge, rather than thoughts of toxic venom, that gave the herpetologists an incentive to enter the exhibit and check on the babies that were so well camouflaged that it was almost impossible to spot them. Tentatively they gathered up the little adders one at a time and on a final count, discovered they had 47 babies to look after.

According to all available records, this is the highest recorded number of Gaboon adders born anywhere in the world. The young adders are doing well and are being cared for in a separate enclosure. 

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) lists West African Gaboon adders as ‘of least concern’, with 282 individuals being recorded within a few square kilometres in Cote d’Ivoire on the West African coast. This is a nocturnal snake found in moist savannah and humid forest habitats. 

These young adders will be donated to organisations like ours that are committed to conservation through education. Hopefully the beautifully patterned snakes will help to spread the message of conservation through habitat protection, thereby enabling the survival of future generations of reptiles.

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