Remembering Tatiana Kotenko



Authored by Dr. Olexander Zinenko

On March 2, 2013, an outstanding Ukrainian herpetologist, Tatiana Kotenko, passed away. During her entire scientific career, she had a particular fondness for the Steppe Viper (Vipera renardi) and the Steppe Runner (Eremias arguta), both her favorite reptiles.

Tatiana was born on October 14, 1949, in Kiev. Her lifelong interest in animals began during her school years, and she was a young naturalist in the Kiev Zoo. She graduated from Kiev University with an honorary award in 1972. After entering her Ph.D. fellowship at the Institute of Zoology of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Kiev, she started her research work in the Chernomorsky Nature Reserve under supervision of two prominent Ukrainian zoologists, Prof. Mikhail Voinstvensky and famous herpetologist Prof. Nikolay Shcherbak.

At the time of her first publication issued in late 1970, there were already several papers dealing with ecology and protection of Steppe Vipers (Kotenko, 1977a; Kotenko, 1977b; Kotenko, 1978a; Kotenko, 1978b). In January 1979, she became a research scientist in the Department of Population Ecology and Conservation of Vertebrates in the Institute of Zoology of Ukrainian Academy of Sciences where she worked until 2013. In May 1983, she defended her Ph.D. thesis “Reptiles of the Left-Bank Steppe of Ukraine.”

For many years, the main topics of her research were the ecology, distribution and conservation, morphological variation, and taxonomy of all reptiles inhabiting the steppe zone of Ukraine and adjacent countries. As an outstanding expert in basic zoology research, Tatiana also contributed greatly to nature protection. She participated in developing the national web of protected areas, contributed prominently to all editions of the Red Data Book of Ukraine and an inventory of rare species of reptiles in Ukraine, and organized practical actions to protect Steppe Vipers. She was a member of the editorial board of the Vestnik Zoologii (the leading national zoological journal in Ukraine), an IUCN expert, and a member of many nature conservation and zoological societies.

Every year, Tatiana spent the entire spring and autumn in the field, usually alone but sometimes accompanied by colleagues or students. She never stopped her field activities—she continued her work during the severe times after the Soviet Union collapse and during the last years of her life when she experienced increasing health problems and was busy writing numerous scientific papers and by official duties in the Institute. This brave woman travelled alone across the whole southern Ukraine, lowland Crimea and other regions totalling dozens of kilometers each day and using all types of transport. She stayed overnight in a tent or in houses of local people who were inspired by her enthusiasm and dedication to science. There are virtually no places in her study area where Tatiana did not spend at least a couple of days. No one could compete with her ability to work day and night under such harsh field circumstances.

Given her enormous enthusiasm, restless temperament, inborn sense of nature, deep dedication and passion during her scientific career, Tatiana collected huge amounts of data—only portions of which have been published, unfortunately.

Ironically, she had a severe allergic reaction to Steppe Vipers, which would be a serious argument against working with them for most of people. Nevertheless, she continued her work even though she had been bitten by vipers several times. She always returned to her work with these animals, sometimes after only couple of days of intensive therapy in a local hospital.

Among her approximately 200 publications, the most important viper papers Tatiana published include several with population status censuses and distribution dynamics of Steppe Vipers in mainland Ukraine made in different times between 1970 and 2000 (Kotenko, 1977b; 1981; 1983; 1989a and b; 1991; 2000; 2002; 2007b; 2008); the Crimea (Kotenko, 2000b, 2007a; 2008); the Danube Delta (1993; 2002a); the description and monitoring of a specific island population of “giant” V. renardi from Orlov Island (Kotenko, 1977; Kotenko, 2009; Kotenko et al., 2012); the ecology of Steppe Vipers (Kotenko, 1978a and b; 1989); participation in early biochemical studies (Kotenko et al., 1999); and a large scale phylogeographic project (Ferchaud et al., 2012) of V. renardi and V. ursinii. She also participated in one of the first studies showing genetic impoverishment as a negative factor leading to decreasing population viability in vipers (Ujvari et al., 2002c).

As a dedicated field zoologist, Tatiana personally discovered, described and monitored many populations of V. renardi in southern Ukraine over decades of work to compile supplementary data about snakes and prey abundance, vegetation structure, human impact and threats to the populations. Most of this information remains unpublished in her diaries, but we are sure it will be important ground for future research in the field of practical conservation, ecology and evolution.

We deeply miss Tatiana as a friend and colleague, and those who knew her will remember her as vivid, bright scientist and friend.

Selected References:
Kotenko T. I. 1977a. Studing of snakes feeding with non-invasive technics. Aktualnye problemy biologiji : Selected articles. Kiev, Vyscha shkola., 79-81 [Котенко Т. І. Вивчення живлення змій безкровним методом // Актуальні проблеми біології : Зб. статей. — К. : Вища школа. — 1977a. — С. 79–81.] Kotenko T. I. 1977b. Herpetofauna of Chernomorsky nature reserve and adjasent territories. Vesnik Zoologii, 2, 55-66. [Котенко Т. И. Герпетофауна Черноморского заповедника и прилежащих территорий // Вестн. зоологии. — 1977b. — № 2. — С. 55–66.] Kotenko T. I. 1978a. Feeding of steppe viper in Chernomorsky nature reserve. 50 years of Chernomorsky natural reserve: Materials of seminar-meeting. Kiev, Naukova dumka, 72-75. [Котенко Т. И. Питание гадюки степной в Черноморском государственном заповеднике // 50 лет Черноморскому государственному заповеднику : Материалы респ. семинара-совещ. — Киев : Наук. думка. — 1978. — С. 72–75.] Kotenko T. I., Radchenko A. G. 1978b. Ortopteras as main feeding objects of viper (Vipera ursinii (Bonap.) in the steppe ecosystems of Chernomorsky nature reserve. Biocenology, antropogenic changed of vegetation and their forecasting. Abstracts of presentations of the second respublic meeting. Kiev, Naukova dumka, 1978, 115-116. [Котенко Т. И., Радченко А. Г. Прямокрылые как кормовая база гадюки (Vipera ursinii (Bonap.) в степных биогеоценозах Черноморского заповедника // Биогеоценология, антропогенные изменения растительного покрова и их прогнозирование : Тез. докл. II республ. совещ. — Киев : Наук. думка. — 1978. — С. 115–116.] Kotenko T. I. 1981. About steppe viper (Vipera ursinii renardi) in Southern Ukraine. Voprosy gerpetologii. Fifth herpetological conference. Leningrad, Nauka, 1981. 73 [Котенко Т. И. О степной гадюке (Vipera ursinii renardi) на юге Украины // Вопросы герпетологии : (Автореф. докл.) / Пятая Всесоюз. герпетол. конф. — Л. : Наука, 1981в. — С. 73.] Kotenko T. I. 1983. Reptiles of Left-bank steppe Ukraine. Thesis of candidate of sciense in biology. Kiev, Institute of zoology AS USSR. 555 [Котенко Т. И. Пресмыкающиеся левобережной степи Украины : Дис. … канд. биол. наук. — Киев : Ин-т зоологии им. И. И. Шмальгаузена АН УССР, 1983г. — 555 с.] Kotenko T. I. 1989. Growth rates and shedding of the steppe viper in Ukraine. Vestnik Zoologii, 3, 55-58 [Котенко Т. И. Темпы роста и линька степной гадюки на Украине // Вестн. зоологии. — 1989a. — № 3. — С. 55–58.] Kotenko T. I. Vipera ursinii renardi (Reptilia: Serpentes) in the Ukraine. First World congress of Herpetology : Abstracts. — Canterbury, 1989b. — P. 315.
Kotenko T. I., Fedorchenko A. A. 1991. Reptiles of the Yalpug lake banks. Vestnik Zoologii, 4, 89. [Котенко Т. И., Федорченко А. А. Пресмыкающиеся берегов оз. Ялпуг // Вестн. зоологии. — 1991. — № 4. — С. 89.] Kotenko T., Oţel V., Fedorchenko A. 1993. Herpetological investigations in the Danube Delta Biosphere reserve in 1992 // Analele Ştiinţ. ale Inst. Delta Dunării. — Tulcea — P. 99–107.
Kotenko T. I., Dotsenko I. B. 1999a. Steppe viper – Vipera ursinii. Amphibians and Reptiles of Ukraine under protection of Bern convenction. Zagorodnjuk I. V. (ed.)., Kiev, 68-71. [Котенко Т., Доценко І. Гадюка степова — Vipera ursinii // Земноводні та плазуни України під охороною Бернської конвенції / Під ред. І. В. Загороднюка. — К., 1999а. — С. 68–71.] Kotenko T. I., Morozov-Leonov S. Y., Mezhzherin S. V. 1999b. Biochemical genetic differentiation of the steppe viper (Vipera ursinii group) in Ukraine and Romania // 10th Ordinary General Meeting / Soc. Eur. Herp. : Programme and Book of Abstracts. — Irakleio, 1999. — P. 88–90.
Biodiversity of Dzharylgach island: current status and ways of conservation. 2000a. Kotenko T. I., Ardamatskaya T. B., Dubyna D. V. et al. Under edition of Kotenko T. I. and Shelyag-Sosonko Yu. R. Vestnik zoologii, special issue, 240. [Биоразнообразие Джарылгача: современное состояние и пути сохранения / Котенко Т. И., Ардамацкая Т. Б., Дубына Д. В. и др. / Науч. ред. Т. И. Котенко, Ю. Р. Шеляг-Сосонко. — Вестн. зоологии. — 2000a. — Спец. выпуск. — 240 с.] Kotenko T. I. 2002a. A new localities of steppe viper (Vipera renardi) in the Crimean Presivashye. Vestnik Zoologii, 36, 2, 100. [Котенко Т. И. Новые находки степной гадюки (Vipera renardi) в Крымском Присивашье // Вестн. зоологии. — 2002b. — 36, № 2. — С. 100.] Kotenko T. I. 2002b. Herpetofauna of the Danube Biosphere Reserve (Ukraine) against the background of the Lower Danube Region herpetofauna // Scientific Annals 2000–2001 / Danube Delta National Institute for Research and Development. — Tulcea, — P. 111–123.
Kotenko T. I. 2002c. Situation with Vipera renardi in Ukraine // Population and habitat viability assessment for the Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis) : Workshop Report / Eds Kovács T., Korsós Z., Rehák I., Corbett K., Miller P. S. — Apple Valley, MN : IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. — P. 77–78.
Újvári B., Madsen Th., Kotenko T., Olsson M., Shine R., Wittzell H. 2002d. Low genetic diversity threatens imminent extinction for the Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis) // Biological Conservation. — 105. — P. 127–130.
Kotenko T. I. Kukushkin O. V. 2005. The steppe viper – Vipera renardi (Christoph, 1861). Faltsfeinovski chytannja, selected paper. Kherson, Terra, Vol. 1. 264-267 [Котенко Т. І., Кукушкін О. В. Гадюка степова — Vipera renardi (Christoph, 1861) // Фальцфейнівські читання : Зб. наук. праць. — Херсон : Терра, 2005а. — Т. 1. — С. 264–267] Kotenko T. I. 2007a. About distribution of steppe viper, Vipera renardi (Reptilia, Viperidae) in the Western part of the lowland Crimea. Vestnik Zoologii. Vol. 41., 5. 422. [Котенко Т. И. О распространении степной гадюки, Vipera renardi (Reptilia, Viperidae), в западной части равнинного Крыма // Вестн. зоологии. — 2007a. — Т. 41, № 5. — С. 422] Kotenko T. I. 2007b. Present state of Vipera renardi in Ukraine (distribution, habitats, abundance, biology, problems of conservation) // 2nd Biology of the Vipers Conference … : Programme and Abstracts. — Porto : CIBIO, 2007b. — P. 42.
Kotenko T. I. Kukushkin O. V. 2008. The steppe viper – Vipera renardi (Christ.), – a species from the Red Data Book of Ukraine. Findings of animals of the Red Data Book of Ukraine. Kiev, 101-132. [Котенко Т. І., Кукушкін О. В. Гадюка степова, Vipera renardi (Christ.), — вид Червоної книги України // Знахідки тварин Червоної книги України. — К., 2008. — С. 101–132] Kotenko T. 2009a. A unique population of the steppe viper, Vipera renardi (Reptilia, Serpentes, Viperidae) on Orlov Island in the Black Sea // International symposium on islands and evolution (14th – 17th September 2009, Maó, Menorca, Balearic Islands, Spain). Programme & Book of abstracts / Ed. V. Péres-Mellado. — Maó, Menorca, 2009. — P. 58.
Kotenko T. I., Kukushkin O. V. 2009b. The steppe viper Vipera renardi (Christoph, 1861). The Red Data book of Ukraine. Animals. Akimov I. A. (ed.). Kiev, Glabalkonsulting. 397. [Котенко Т. І., Кукушкін О. В. Гадюка степова Vipera renardi (Christoph, 1861) // Червона книга України. Тваринний світ / Під заг. ред. І. А. Акімова. — К.: Глобалконсалтинг, 2009. — С. 397.] Kotenko T. I., Zinenko A. I., Gavrilyuk S. V., Selyunina Z. V. 2012. Steppe viper Vipera r. renardi (Christoph, 1861) on island Orlov (Tendrivska bay). Pryrodnychi almanakh. 18. 39-50. [Котенко Т. И., Зиненко А. И., Гаврилюк С. В., Селюнина З. В. (2012)Степная гадюка Vipera r. renardi (Christoph, 1861) острова Орлов (Тендровский залив). Природничій альманах. Вип. 18, 2012. – 39-50.] Ferchaud, A.-L., Ursenbacher, S., Cheylan, M., Luiselli, L., Jelic, D., Halpern, B., Major, A., Kotenko, T., Keyans, N., Behrooz, R., Crnobrnja-Isailovic, J., Tomovic, L., Ghira, I., Ioannidis, Y., Arnal, V., Montgelard, C., 2012. Phylogeography of the Vipera ursinii complex (Viperidae): mitochondrial markers reveal an east–west disjunction in the Palaearctic region. Journal of Biogeography. 39, 10, 1836–1847.