All pit vipers are venomous. However, we have little knowledge of how dangerous [this snake] is to humans
Cambodian forests are a potential haven for undiscovered animal species, highlighted by the recent discovery of a new type of pit viper, yet scientists claim illegal logging and environmental hazards threaten the Kingdom’s biodiversity.
Dr Anita Malhotra, a professor at Bangor’s School of Biological Sciences in South Wales, United Kingdom, said yesterday that Cambodian forests “almost certainly hold the potential for a wide variety of undiscovered species” after her students were part of a research team that discovered the green pit viper in the Cardamom Mountains.
The discovery, announced last week, was made by a team led by Bryan Stuart, an amphibian and reptile curator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who has been researching in Southeast Asia for more than 12 years.
“All pit vipers are venomous. However, we have little knowledge of how dangerous [this snake] is to humans.
“Extrapolating from closely related species, it is likely to cause pain and swelling, perhaps some local tissue damage around the site of the bite, but is unlikely to cause death,” said Dr Malhorta.
She said that the discovery highlights the need to protect Cambodia’s natural habitats, especially as this particular species of snake could yield new advancements in the field of medicine.
“Identifying these species is the first step towards protecting them: it means that people know what is out there to protect,” she said, adding that researchers are continuing to work to find new species in the country.
“Pit vipers are also very interesting because of the huge range of pharmacologically active substances contained in their venom, so new species mean potentially finding new substances with novel activities which may be of future benefit in human medicine.”
According to Conservation International, the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, which encompasses Cambodia and more than 2 million square kilometres of tropical Asia, has less than 5 percent of its original forest remaining in a pristine state largely because of the damage done by illegal logging and other environmental hazards.
“The remaining fragments are hugely significant as refuges for the biodiversity contained in this region and any further destruction will consequently have much larger repercussions,” said Dr Malhotra.