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The Moldavian Meadow Viper (Vipera ursinii moldavica) Conservation Project:
Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund Project # 13257926

Authored by Alexandru Strugariu
Member of the Viper Specialist Group, Europe and North Africa

Biodiversity Research Group, Faculty of Biology, “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University of Iași and Moldavica Herpetological Group, Carol I Blvd. No. 20A, 700505, Iași, Romania. E-mail: alex.strugariu@gmail.com

The Moldavian Meadow Viper (Vipera ursinii moldavica) is a subspecies of the Orsini’s viper endemic to eastern Romania. The subspecies currently persists in two distinct regions of the country: in the Danube Delta of south-eastern Romania (three known populations) and in steppe habitats near the city of Iași in north-eastern Romania (3-4 known populations). Previous records for this subspecies exist from Bulgaria and the Republic of Moldova, but these are presumed extinct. The Moldavian Meadow Viper is labelled as Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN Red List (European Reptile & Amphibian Specialist Group 1996. Vipera ursinii ssp. Moldavica . In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2.).

Although most of the habitats populated by the Moldavian Meadow Viper are located within protected areas (two Natura 2000 sites near Iași and the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve), many of them are severely threatened by human activities, especially by extension of agricultural fields, mechanised mowing and large-scale vegetation fires. For example, an important part (almost 20 ha.) of one of the north-eastern habitats included in a Natura 2000 site (“Dealul lui Dumnezeu”) was ploughed during the spring of 2014. Furthermore, during field surveys undertaken in 2013, we recorded the presence of the Moldavian Meadow Viper in two habitats that are not legally protected and can therefore be destroyed without requiring an environmental impact assessment.

The goals of our current project, funded by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, are (i) to establish a solid scientific background for the conservation of the Moldavian Meadow Viper and (ii) to conduct an awareness campaign in the local community. Thus, we aim to assess the current distribution of the subspecies in Romania by modelling the bioclimatic niche; conduct field surveys in previously-recorded as well as potential habitats; assess the status of the populations’ size, density, age and sex structure; investigate variations in activity patterns, habitat use, feeding ecology and life history traits; collect tissue samples for future population genetics studies; monitor and record human activities that might represent threats, and communicate with the responsible environmental authorities; and promote the need to protect the subspecies by communicating to the media, holding presentations in the local communities, and distributing leaflets, posters and printed t-shirts.

Until now, the MBZ project has been useful in enabling us to conduct constant (an average of almost one day per week) field surveys in the north-eastern known and potential habitats as well as one successful four-day expedition to one habitat from the Danube Delta. It allowed us to quickly observe the recently ploughed area of a previously pristine Moldavian Meadow Viper habitat and notify the legal authorities before crop was planted. Several leaflets and posters promoting the protection of the subspecies were freely distributed in the city center of Iași during an organized event on Earth Hour (March 28). Conservation-relevant information as well as descriptions of the activities related to this project are being presented on a dedicated Facebook page (www.facebook.com/vu.moldavica). Routine monitoring of the north-eastern populations will continue until the end of the project, and at least two more expeditions to the Danube Delta will be organized.

Future projects will focus on conducting the first detailed study on the genetic diversity of Moldavian Meadow Viper populations and the first radio-telemetric studies for a better understanding of the subspecies’ spatial ecology.

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