Refugium | News

Hatcheries and Fixed Walls—Helping the Aesculapian Snake

It’s called the Aesculapian Snake because this non-venomous species is the star of the main symbol for doctors, the snake that encircles the staff of the Greek god of medicine, Aesculapius.

The Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus) is famous world-wide. It’s also the longest of the five species of snakes that live in the Czech Republic. Its usual length is around 150 cm, but some individuals can reach up to two meters. Critically endangered, it’s found only in three areas: Podyjí, the White Carpathians, and Poohří.

The population in Poohří is the most fragile because it’s completely isolated. The populations in Podyjí and the White Carpathians form the edges of larger, more continuous populations in Austria and Slovakia. The Poohří population numbers about 500 to 700 snakes and is the northernmost sighting of this species in the world.

The Aesculapian snake in the Poohří region lives in the valley of the Ohře River between the Doupovské and Krušné mountains, specifically around the town of Stráž nad Ohří. The Zamenis Association, which has been working tirelessly to save this snake since 2006, is based nearby in Osvinov on the left bank of the Ohře River.

The snake’s range also extends to the right bank of the river, the location of one of Refugium’s sites—a cascade of ponds, which is really a lake, a wetland, and a pond, near the village of Jakubov.

We therefore began collaborating with the Zamenis Association to promote the Aesculapian snake in the area we manage. Under the leadership of herpetologist Karel Janoušek, co-founder of Zamenis, several measures are now being developed in the Jakubov cascade of ponds. The first and most important is the installation of a hatchery.

The hatchery has a substrate of sawdust and bark that is protected by a mess screen, which is ideal for laying eggs and hatching snakelets. It also functions as a hiding place, often used by other species of snakes or the slow worm.

We’re also planning to repair the crumbling stone walls in the site. This will benefit the Aesculapian snake, which prefers different types of habitats, from rocky slopes, railway embankments, to the porous masonry of old buildings.

The Aesculapian snake is the focus of a nationwide conservation program that seeks to maintain micro populations of the species, increase their numbers, and ultimately return the snake to the areas in which it has gone extinct.

A key method of achieving these goals is creating suitable shelters and habitats. Now it’s up to the Aesculapian snake to settle in and our hope is that it will do so in our site in Jakubov.