A new species of venomous burrowing snake is at risk of being wiped out by mining before it can be declared a threatened species, a University of Queensland biologist claims.
Associate Professor Bryan Fry said the discovery of a new species of bandy-bandy snake near a bauxite mine at Weipa on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula prompted him to immediately seek “threatened species” protection for the animal.
He said the chance discovery occurred when his team was undertaking sea snake research.
“Bandy-bandy is a burrowing snake, so we were surprised to find it on a concrete block by the sea,” he said.
“We later discovered that the snake had slithered over from a pile of bauxite rubble waiting to be loaded onto a ship.
“On examination by my student, Chantelle Derez, the bandy-bandy turned out to be a new species, visually and genetically distinct from those found on the East coast and parts of the interior.”
The team found another specimen in its natural habitat near Weipa, and another killed by a car close to the mine.
He confirmed paperwork was filed with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service to have the animal declared a threatened species today.
“Bauxite mining is a major economic activity in the region, and it may be reshaping the environment to the detriment of native plants and animals,” Professor Fry said.
“Getting the snake entered into the threatened species database would mean mining companies have to take them into consideration and not mine this entire type of habitat.
“Where the snake is living now is where the bauxite mine is. Theres a direct conflict between the two.
“The importance of such discoveries goes beyond simply documenting what is out there, as venoms are rich sources of compounds that can be used to develop new medications.
“To put this into context, anyone that takes high blood pressure medication or takes a captopril derivative – that is a modified snake toxin.
“It was developed 40 years ago and it remains today a $10 billion-a-year market. It has been one of the top 20 drugs of all time, up there with things like aspirin.
“Thats an example of the economic importance of these kinds of animals.
“Every species is precious and we need to protect them all, since we cant predict where the next wonder drug will come from.
“Ive submitted the paperwork to QPWS and it will enter into their system. What happens after that is beyond my control. All we can do is flag our discoveries and get the word out.
“The discovery of this enigmatic little snake is symptomatic of the more fundamental problem; how little we know about our biodiversity and how much may be lost before we even discover it.”
The Queensland Resources Council was contacted for comment but did not respond by Fairfax's deadline.
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