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Rare snakes sighted in Tibetan county

By Palden Nyima and Daqiong in Lhasa | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-21 09:41

A Tibetan hot-spring snake. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A research team has recently uncovered a Tibetan hot-spring snake habitat in the northern part of Gyirong county, Xizang autonomous region, by using infrared cameras, marking the first official sighting of the snake in the county.

The groundbreaking discovery was made by a research team from the Ministry of Environment and Ecology's Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science, with support from Xizang's Department of Ecology and Environment, as part of a yearlong biodiversity research project.

The unique reptile species, endemic to China, thrives solely on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at altitudes exceeding 4,000 meters and is one of the country's first-level key protected wild animals, said Qin Weihua, a member of the research team and an associate researcher at the institute. The snakes are mainly distributed in areas such as Nyingchi, Lhasa and Shigatse, Tibetan cities where hot springs are prevalent.

"Snakes are ectothermic animals due to their low metabolic rate," Qin said. "They cannot generate enough heat to maintain a constant body temperature and usually need to rely on external heat sources to warm themselves up."

He said the reason Tibetan hotspring snakes can survive at chilly, high altitudes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is mainly because they are adept at using the geothermal heat around hot springs to raise their body temperatures, and they can feed on amphibians and fish living at the springs.

"In recent years, due to their unique habitat and scarce numbers, Tibetan hot-spring snakes have been assessed as critically endangered species in China's Red List of Biodiversity and urgently require enhanced protection," Qin said.

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