By Chen Jung-cheng, Staff Reporter
Authorities in Yueyang, Hunan province, have arrested four people in connection with the illegal sale of Mangshan pit vipers on the social media platform WeChat, reports our Chinese-language sister paper Want Daily.
The Mangshan pit viper only lives in the area around Mt Mang in Hunan and part of Guangdong province and was only discovered in the early 1990s. There are thought to be only 500 individuals in the wild, giving the species a smaller wild population than the giant panda. They thus became a hot reptile in the illegal pet trade, with an individual going for over 1 million yuan (US$161,000). The snake was listed as an endangered species under the Convention on International Trade Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in March, 2013. Under CITES, trade in the pit viper is banned.
Since 2002, scientists in the US as well as China have been attempting to help the population grow via breeding programs.
The Yao people, a minority ethnic group living in southwestern and southern China, believe themselves to be the siblings of Mangshan pit viper. In their mythology they and the snakes are the offspring of Fuxi and Nuwa, two ancient Chinese deities.
The snake can grow up to 2 meters in length and is the only known non-cobra able to spit venom. They are usually grass green or yellow-green in color and prefer habitat that is warm, wet and tropical. Their venom is extremely toxic.