Yerevan Zoo houses not only birds, predators, and hoofed animals but has also an Aqua-terrarium. In this department the caretakers are responsible for 20 snakes, 3 species of lizards, 3 species of tortoises, 2 crocodiles, and 77 species of fish. Among the snakes are for example the Indian python (Phyton molurus), the South American rattlesnake or Tropical rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus), the Red spitting cobra (Naja pallid), and the African rock python (Python sebae). All these animals are kept behind glass without any direct contact to visitors because only numbering the names, especially of snakes, already gives an idea that the animals of the Aqua-terrarium Department are not easy to deal with. Here we will present some general facts about snakes and some more detailed information about the snake species which are kept in Yerevan Zoo.
Adult snakes body length can range from 7.5 cm to 12 meters; the weight from 5 grams up to 200 kg. Life expectancy is form 8 to 40 years.
In Armenia the Lebetine viper (Macrovipera lebetina) is mainly considered to be the most dangerous and largest snake. Also most accidents are related to Lebetine Viper. The Lebetine viper’s body is thick, the length reaches from 22 to 180 cm. Males are larger than females, and the head is detached from the body and covered with small scales. The snake’s eyes are large with a white iris; the eye pupil is of elliptic vertical shape. The upper surface of the head is without trim or with some small black spots.
Lebetine vipers feed on locusts, lizards, turtles, and small and medium-sized rodents. Wintering starts in the late autumn and lasts until spring. In the second half of June and beginning of August the snake lays 8-25 eggs. Lebetine vipers occur in almost all the regions of Armenia, in foothills and craggy places.
It is hardly surprising that people avoid meeting a Viper. But, as the proverb says – the more you wish to avoid something, the earlier it will happen. A few years ago the majority of cases connected with snake bites or snakes entering places of residence occur in the regions of Armenia especially in open fields, but today the snakes come as “a guest to the people”.
When encounters of creatures that are mutually frightened by the other take place, willy-nilly injuring each other becomes very probable. Here the statistic clarifies the issue. Data collected this year by Karen Martirosyan, the Head of the Aqua-terrarium Department, shows that already 140 cases of poisoning (two of them fatal) have been registered so far. According to Karen Martirosyan, “This is not because snakes become furious, but because people are more and more intruding wild, natural areas inhabited by snakes and other animals. They “conquer” these new areas to build houses or to use the territories economically hence encounters between human beings and snakes become more frequent and even very painful. On the other hand snakes looking for new areas of settlements, occur in people’s residences”.
Karen Martirosyan, who is a biologist by profession and is interested in reptiles since he was seven years old, already has a work experience of 28 years. In his work practice snakes bit him 7 times. He remembers his student years, when he encountered a Cobra for the first time. Being fascinated by snakes he just forget all guidelines and looked at them from near and the Cobra squirted poison in his eyes. The next case was connected with Armenian adder (Vipera raddei). He and his friend shot a film about this snake species and were so absorbed by observing the snakes that they did not notice that many adders were around them. Karen was not worried about himself but for his friend’s life, who was shooting and did not realize that just near his legs great numbers of adders approached.
Karen recommends in general to everybody to get a little bit acquainted with various species of snakes so that people are able to distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous ones. Frequently non-poisonous snakes become victims of people simply because of ignorance. He remembers a case when because of not having the adequate information, not only the snake was killed but also its “victim” suffered unnecessarily. “A woman was brought who was bitten in the finger by a snake. The finger changed its color into black and was amputated, but in reality as it was a non-poisonous snake bite this wound would have healed easily after some time” Karen Martirosyan describes. Finally he adds that people should be aware that a snake’s poison is a hunting and protection weapon similar to the fangs and claws of predators.