Snakes are reviled in Cambodian culture and the news that there is yet another species around will make few happy. But, pretty and harmless to humans as it is, Cambodia’s newest snake might well find a soft spot in the Khmer heart. Discovered and described by Cambodian national Neang Thy, American scientist Dr Lee Grismer and Fauna & Flora International’s Senior Conservation Biologist Dr Jenny Daltry, the latest new species of reptile from the country has been named after Cambodia (or Kampuchea). The Cambodian Kukri snake, or Oligodon kampucheaensis, is perhaps set to become a Cambodian reptilian mascot.
Neang Thy, a Ministry of Environment officer working with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) as a herpetologist, explained why he felt compelled to name the species in this way. “Cambodian science was smashed under the Pol Pot regime, and only now are we picking up the pieces. It gave me a great sense of pride to both discover and describe this species, and to name it in honour of my country.”
“Most kukri snakes are dull-coloured,” said Thy, “but this one is dark red with black and white rings, making it a beautiful snake.”
Kukri snakes are so named because their curved rear teeth are similar in shape to the Nepalese knife known as a kukri. These long teeth are designed to puncture eggs – one of the kukri snake’s principle foods – which are swallowed whole. They are forest species, and in keeping with their known ecology, this one was found in the rainforests of the Cardamom Mountains in the south-west of the country.
Although part of Cambodia’s protected areas system, this area is under threat from habitat loss and land conversion. “The Cambodian kukri snake is the second new reptile we have described this year in Cambodia,” said Berry Mulligan, FFI’s Cambodia Programme Country Manager. “This shows how important it is that we fight to conserve this area.”