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Assam Keelback Re-Appeared after 129 Years

Last seen in 1891, a group of scientists of Wildlife Institute of India, has rediscovered the rare snake in Arunachal Pradesh

Pic Credit: Dhritiman Mukherjee/ twitter

Guwahati: More than century later, a real ‘Khilogiya’ has emerged from the shadows.

The Assam keelback snake, known as the real ‘Khilongia of Upper Assam region’ as this species is found nowhere else in the world, has recently made its ‘magical’ appearance almost 129 years later when it was first spotted.

Last seen in 1891 when a British tea-planter Samuel Edward Peal collected specimens and deposited at the Natural History Museum, London, a group of scientists of Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, have found Assam keelback (Herpetoreas pealii), a non-venomous, in Arunachal Pradesh.

The snake has never been spotted since.

Luckily, it was sighted in September 2018 when the WII team decided to retrace the century-old iconic Abor Expedition to Arunachal Pradesh. The survey was initiated from the Poba reserved forest, located at the interstate boundary between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Though found in two years back, but it was identified as the ‘lost’ Assam keelback recently.

“While following one of these muddy-bottomed streams in the forest interior, we recorded this harmless snake coiling under the submerged leaf litter of a stream. The snake was difficult to spot among leaf litter due to its dark-brown colour, but its belly contrasted it with brown spots on a yellow background – and that’s caught the attention,” said WII scientist Abhijit Das, lead author of the study ‘Lost and found: rediscovery and systematics of the Northeast Indian snake Hebius pealii’.

To confirm the identity and evolutionary relationships of this rare find, collaboration came from the Natural History Museum, London, where original the specimen was kept intact. Subsequently, it was identified based on morphological and molecular comparisons.

The discovery of the Assam keelback from a slow-flowing stream inside a forest indicates the need to prioritize conservation of ‘special habitats’ to safeguard microhabitat specialized species, the scientist added.