Hungarian meadow viper Conservation Centre
The Hungarian meadow viper Conservation Centre, based in the Kiskunság National Park since 2004, is the most important part of our conservation program. It was needed to establish the facility, because the natural population of Hungarian meadow viper was decreasing dramatically, and it projected the grim picture of extinction of this unique species. The breeding of the snakes was started with 10 animals, which were captured in 4 different habitats in 2004. During 2007-2008 we captured further 6 snakes. At the moment 700 vipers live in the Centre. The significance of this number is even greater when we compare it to the estimation of 500 adult specimens living in the remaining Hungarian populations. The main goal of the Centre’s operation is to breed vipers collected from threatened populations. In the seminatural outdoor enclosures vipers from different populations have a chance to breed, eliminating problems such as inbreeding arising from small isolated populations.
In each outdoor terraria we provide safe hiding place for the vipers in the form of artificial wintering burrows. Snakes survived the winters in these burrows in the past years. The burrows are used by other amphibians and reptiles on a voluntary basis, so we deployed some in nearby natural habitats. These burrows also have role in repatriation of the species as we transfer the snakes together with their hibernacula into the new location, minimising disturbance and providing safe hiding place for the future.
Young vipers born at the Centre – thanks to prey-abundance and lack of predators – are reaching adulthood in higher percentage than those in natural populations. Keeping these vipers provided a chance to answer many previously unanswered questions in connection with the species’ secretive life. Following years of success in breeding the snakes we now have the opportunity to start releasing them to their former habitats, safeguarded by now from effects of intensive agriculture.
Hungarian Meadow Viper Conservation and Exhibition Centre
The Centre always had a secondary role beside breeding the species: educating public about the goals of the project. In the frame of the LIFE+ project we tried to improve this role by building facilities to have larger number of visitors, officially adding Exhibition function to the compound. As part of this improvement bathrooms, a roofed open-air classroom, and an exhibiton terrarium were built. We have also built a nature trail where the typical habitats of the region can be seen. The Centre is opened all year round, creating chance for anybody interested in observing these snakes, or gaining information about our conservation program. The Centre and the nature trail can only be visited with professional guide. For booking a visit, our education officer, Erzsébet Herbót can be contacted (phone +36-20-3143192, e-mail email@example.com).
The Conservation Centre is operated by MME BirdLife Hungary, cooperating with KNP, supervised by Hungarian meadow viper Conservation Council, formed of experts on the subject. Several other experts participate in this breeding program. Veterinary support is provided by Budapest Zoo. Budapest Zoo further helps by operating a facility for breeding several orthopteran species, serving as prey for vipers. The genetic survey is carried out by the Laboratory of Molecular Taxonomy of Hungarian Natural History Museum.
During the first six years of the operation of the Centre, altogether 577 vipers were born (322 female, 254 male) from 65 birth. It is 8,9 vipers in one litter. The biggest litter contained 26 alive, and 1 dead snakes. By right of our monitoring the average time of gestation is 122 days. The small vipers are 13,9 cm long, their weight is 2,4 g. In the first years we allowed the females to reproduce only in every two years, but later when they weren’t controlled, we observed annual reproduction period. The genetic surveys showed, that the genetic variability of the offsprings is higher than their parents, and it is a good sign in the respect of their survival after the release of the snakes.
Since we opened the Centre many groups from kindergartens, school classes and universities have visited us. Furthermore many thesis were made with the cooperation of the Hungarian meadow viper program.