Rampant threat: climate crisis is accelerating the proliferation of venomous snakes

10 05 2024 | 07:26 Boris Ngounou

Global climate change is causing a series of dramatic environmental phenomena. Among them, the migration of species, including venomous snakes, is causing growing concern. A recent study published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health highlights the devastating consequences of global warming on the geographical distribution of these deadly reptiles, particularly in Africa.

According to the researchers, changing climatic conditions are causing many species of venomous snakes to migrate to new habitats, which could lead to a proliferation of these animals in previously unaffected regions. The countries most vulnerable to this threat include Niger and Namibia, where the arrival of venomous snakes could occur on a large scale, endangering the health and safety of local populations.

The study reveals that by 2070, the habitat of several species of venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes, cobras, mambas and the West Gabonese viper could expand significantly, by up to 250% in some cases. This expansion is largely attributable to the degradation of tropical and subtropical ecosystems caused by climate change and human activities.

The consequences of this migration of venomous snakes are alarming. Indeed, these reptiles represent a serious threat to public health, with millions of cases of envenomations by bites every year throughout the world. In Africa, where medical resources and supplies of anti-venom are often limited, the arrival of new species of venomous snakes could lead to a significant increase in the number of deaths and permanent disabilities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified venomous snakebites as one of the most important neglected tropical diseases to monitor, underlining the urgent need for action in the face of this growing threat. Every year, between 80,000 and 138,000 people die as a result of snakebites in Africa, and around 400,000 others suffer amputations or permanent injuries, contributing to a heavy burden on already fragile health systems.

To respond to this threat, concerted action is needed at local, national and international level. African governments must invest in the prevention and management of snakebite envenomations, by strengthening health systems and ensuring adequate access to anti-venom treatment. In addition, climate change monitoring and prevention measures must be implemented to mitigate the adverse effects on biodiversity and public health.

The spread of venomous snakes in Africa, amplified by climate change, represents a major challenge for public health and biodiversity conservation. It is imperative to act quickly and effectively to prevent the disastrous consequences of this emerging threat and protect vulnerable populations from snakebites.