THE STUDY MARCH 31, 2011
Six days and one Twitter account after escaping from its cage, the Bronx Zoo's Egyptian cobra has been found. Zoo staff found the cobra by itself in a dark corner of the reptile house, putting to rest local parents' fears that the cobra was roaming the area. If the cobra had left the zoo, though, it likely would have been on its own for a long time, and not just because it was kept in the middle of the Bronx: the worldwide snake population is in "alarming" decline.
According to a 2010 study of snake populations around the world, conducted by scientists on three different continents, "of 17 snake populations (eight species) from the UK, France, Italy, Nigeria and Australia, 11 have declined sharply over the same relatively short period of time with ﬁve remaining stable and one showing signs of a marginal increase." Two patterns emerged in the data: first, almost all the declining populations exhibited "a tipping point effect," with most of the decline taking place between 1998 and 2002. Second, the deepest declines took place in species that have "small home ranges, sedentary habits and ambush foraging strategies," while wider-ranging populations were more stable.
The researchers suggest that climate change or other anthropogenic factors may be to blame, noting that "sit-and-wait foragers" are more vulnerable to changes in the size and quality of their habitats. And snakes are not the only reptile populations in decline: studies suggest that climate change could result in the extinction of one-fifth of all lizard species by 2080. So feel sorry for the Bronx zoo cobra: it's captured and lonely.
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