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Rare Tibetan hot-spring snakes discovered in Xizang

By Palden Nyima and Daqiong | | Updated: 2024-06-20 18:11
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A research team in Gyirong county, Xizang autonomous region, used infrared cameras in late May to discover the habitat of Tibetan hot-spring snakes, Thermophis baileyi.

A team from the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science at the Ministry of Environment and Ecology accomplished the groundbreaking discovery with support from Xizang's department of ecology and environment as part of a year-long biodiversity research project.

A Tibetan hot-spring snake ( Thermophis baileyi) hunts near a hot-spring in Gyirong county, Xizang autonomous region. [Photo provided to]

The discovery happened during the second phase of a biodiversity conservation priority area survey.

Using the infrared cameras and line transects, the survey managed to document a diverse array of reptiles along with the Tibetan hot-spring snakes.

The unique snake species, endemic to China, thrives solely in the heart of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at altitudes exceeding 4,000 meters. Notably, the Tibetan hot spring snake's habitat is restricted, with a sparse population, earning it the prestigious status of a first-level key protected wild animal in China.

A flat-headed belly-banded snake pokes its head out of the water in Gyirong county, Xizang autonomous region. [Photo provided to]

This discovery marks the first official sighting of Tibetan hot spring snakes in Gyirong county. According to records, the species is mainly found in Nyingchi, Lhasa and Shigatse.

Qin Weihua, a member of the research team and deputy researcher at the institute, said that Tibetan hot-spring snakes can survive the high-altitude and cold environment on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau because they keep from freezing to death by hanging around geothermal pools and feasting on the frogs and small fish that live there.

A view of the Tibetan hot-spring snake hot spring habitat in Gyirong county, Xizang autonomous region. [Photo provided to]

"In recent years, due to their unique habitat and scarce numbers, Tibetan hot-spring snakes have been assessed as a critically endangered species," said Qin, adding there is an urgent need for local authorities and residents to intensify monitoring, safeguard habitats, and heighten community awareness to shield these endangered creatures from hunting and harm.

A Tibetan sand lizard prowls along the rocks near a hot spring in Gyirong county, Xizang autonomous region. [Photo provided to]
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