New snake species named after assassinated forest campaigner

Bothriechis guifarroi

This image shows a male Bothriechis guifarroi, the newly discovered palm-pitviper from Honduras. (photo credit: Josiah H. Townsend)

A deadly but beautiful new species of palm pit-viper snake has been named after the assassinated forest campaigner Mario Guifarro. The gorgeous new species was discovered by scientists during two expeditions in 2010 aimed at studying the fauna of Texiguat Wildlife Refuge, one of the most endemism-rich and diverse highland forests in Mesoamerica.

The new snake species Bothriechis guifarroi had previously been confused with other pitviper species until a genetic analysis revealed that it was a separate species. The new name was published in the latest edition of Zookeys.

The new species means that the Texiguat Wildlife Refuge now has at least 15 unique endemic species.

The refuge was created in 1987 to help protect the immense diversity of the threatened cloud forest in northern Honduras. Species found in the park include the jaguar, monkeys, sloths and the Central American tapir.

The new species was named in honor of Mario Guifarro of Olancho. Guifarro was a former hunter and gold miner who became an outspoken conservationist when he saw the vast rainforests of eastern Honduras being destroyed and converted to cattle ranches.

Despite years of threats and a long history of attempts on his life Guifarro continued to campaign hard to protect the rainforests of Honduras. He was assassinated on 15th September 2007 as he worked on the production of a biosphere reserve for the indigenous Tawahka.

Guifarro was the leader of a team of conservationists heading into the deep jungle with GPS units to mark out a boundary of the bioreserve. The team would also train the local forest inhabitants on how to use the GPS to keep track of illegally logging within the reserve.

On the morning of 15th September Guifarro left the main party to go to a local village, he was accompanied by one of his sons. He was concerned that a large party of people turning up would frighten the local villagers. As the two headed down along the bank of a river a small canoe appeared carrying three men. They called out to Guifarro by name and landed at the shore.

Noticing that Guifarro had a guitar they asked him to play for them. As he finished the song Mujeres Divinas one of the men shot him three times with a M16 killing him instantly.  Guifarro’s son, Shamir, managed to escape only to be shot and killed 9 months later in another assassination thought to be ordered by loggers.

The lead author of the study Dr Josiah Townsend, Department of Biology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, comments on the importance of the discovery and  conservation status of the new species: “The description of Bothriechis guifarroi has important implications for Central American biogeography as well as conservation. We recommend that B. guifarroi be immediately classified as Critically Endangered due to its limited known area of occurrence and the potential for anthropogenic damage to its habitat. We also consider that this species warrants immediate consideration for protection under CITES, given its striking appearance and high potential for exploitation in the pet trade.”

 

External sites:

Zookeys: A relict lineage and new species of green palm-pitviper (Squamata, Viperidae, Bothriechis) from the Chortís Highlands of Mesoamerica.

 

 

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