Nine ocellate mountain vipers were born at the Saint Louis Zoo on August 16—an important event for this highly endangered species from northeastern Turkey. The Saint Louis Zoo is one of only three U.S. zoos to care for this viper.

This mountain-dweller occupies dry, warm slopes where temperatures fall at night; so it is usually only active during the day. Its pattern of orangish-brown spots helps the snake blend in with its surroundings.

This venomous snake was thought to be extinct for nearly 140 years but then was "re-discovered" in eastern Turkey in 1983. Once the word got out, the news led to severe over-collecting by European and Turkish snake collectors. This is a serious threat for the future survival of the species, which has already been wiped out in much of its very small range.

The breeding of the Zoo's vipers was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP). The Zoo is a participant in this cooperative program, working with other conservation organizations to ensure the survival of the species.

"With a strong history of caring for this species, the Zoo found value in focusing its conservation efforts on a group largely ignored by other zoological institutions," says Jeff Ettling, Ph.D., Curator of Herpetology & Aquatics at the Zoo, and Director of both the Center for Conservation in Western Asia and the Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation. "Our studies of mountain vipers in our care have already provided useful information on reproduction and behavior of these poorly known species."

The Armenian viper, a close relative of the ocellate mountain viper, is a focus for the Zoo's WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in Western Asia—a leading force in helping to establish two protected areas in Armenia to help ensure the survival of mountain vipers.

The Center's studies of Armenian vipers contributed to the Armenian government's 2009 decision to declare two new protected areas—Arevik National Park and Zangezur Sanctuary.

In 2012, this Center expanded its geographic reach and the scope of its conservation mission to focus on conserving not only the Armenian viper but also other mountain vipers, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals that call Armenia home and on wildlife in surrounding countries of Western Asia.

The Center combines ecological field studies and taxonomic investigations to provide the fundamental data necessary for development of conservation management guidelines. Over the course of the next year, the Center staff will be looking for funding to setup a conservation breeding facility in Yerevan, Armenia, for 11 species of endangered amphibians and reptiles. The goal will be to captive breed, head-start and augment existing animal populations.

This Center, like all of the other Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Centers, takes a holistic approach to troubled ecosystems by addressing three key ingredients in conservation success: wildlife management and recovery, conservation science, and support of the human populations that coexist with wildlife.