Venemous Snakes and Stuff

Biodiversity of the neotropics is well-known for being rather high, especially in comparison to more temperate regions. Within the country of Panama, which considered part of the neotropics, there are 127 recorded snake species, and among those only 20 are considered venomous. These venomous snakes especially a cause for concern due to the high levels of aggression that these snakes may exhibit, and the lethality of a few of the species. However, it is very unlikely to encounter one of these, even if you are specifically looking for them. Most species are nocturnal, and most people who actually get bitten are agricultural workers. In fact, the chances of being bitten by a poisonous snake are just as likely as being struck by lightning! If you do get bitten, there is usually a major hospital that is reasonably close that carries the anti-venom, and most fatalities are usually children and the elderly (who tend to not have great immune systems) and agricultural workers.

So far, our group has only encountered three individual snakes, and two total species. During two late night hikes, we encountered two juvenile cat-eyed snakes, and a chunk-headed tree snake, none of which were venomous, and none of which even attempted to bite. Despite the widespread apprehension towards snakes, it is very unlikely to encounter one, and if you do, it’s not very likely that the snake is even venomous. There is even a story of an encounter with a Fer-de-lance where the victim who had gotten bit was able to survive for three days without decent medical care, and never actually needed the anti-venom.

Despite the relative scarcity of venomous snakes, it is still good to be aware of their existence. The aforementioned Fer-de-lance snake may the most commonly found venomous snake, and is widely considered one of the deadliest snakes in the world. Bushmasters aren’t so common, and usually avoid areas of high human density. Nevertheless, these serpents are rather aggressive, and may strike if approached.  In Gamboa, the town where our class is staying, my research group was warned by a local man to watch out for the “patoco”, a dangerous snake that he said liked to hide in tall grass. We later discovered this “patoco” was actually the venomous hog-nosed pit viper. To this point, we haven’t encountered it, and we likely won’t (much to my dismay). Overall though, listening to locals may be the most effective way to know if there are certain snakes to avoid in the areas, and can be important in understanding how to avoid them.

In essence, it is not likely to encounter a snake in Panama during the day, especially venomous snakes. Despite the rarity, people should know the general behavior of venomous snakes in their areas, especially they’re aggressive, and lethality of the venom.

Hawksbill and Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Efforts in Panama

Worldwide, threats to the existence of sea turtles are numerous and widespread. Conservation of the sea turtle species are of the upmost importance, and for a few species of sea turtle, the hawksbill and the leatherback, conservation is no more important in Panama than anywhere else. Chiriquí Beach, located just south of Bocas del Toro, is a critical nesting location for hawksbills and leatherbacks, and several past threats have threated to wipe out the turtles. Recently, an organization named the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has been working to prevent threats, such as poaching, and populations have seen a significant rebound.

Due to the highly successful impact of the STC, another beach, Soropta Beach, was given to STC for conservation, and this beach is another important beach where leatherback turtles go to lay their eggs. Conservation had originally been under the supervision of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), which had become unable to financially support conservation at the site, so priority was given to the STC. Ten years before conservation began at the site, nearly 100% of the eggs did not go on to survive, and occasionally even the adults were being killed. Today, 600 nests are conserved at the beach, and adults are allowed to emerge without the risk of being killed by poachers.

STC has now expanded and is encouraging biologists to work with the leatherback turtles on the island, and they even set up a camp for the biologists when they are doing their research. Before the 2013 nestling season, more property along Soropta Beach was purchased by the STC, and will use it to continue to improve conservation for the future. Another challenge for this organization is to bring in funding in order to support year-round protection at this new site.

The impact of poaching, and other threats that occur to sea turtles when they beach has decimated their populations to the point where they have become endangered. Organizations such as STC has allowed for effective conservation of these species, and in the future these organizations will play a critical role in keeping the populations from becoming further devastated, and perhaps they can improve the species from their current endangered status.


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