Stephen Spear

Director of Wildlife Ecology, The Wilds, USA

    Dr. Stephen Spear is the Director of Wildlife Ecology at The Wilds. He received his B.S. at the University of Richmond, M.S. from Idaho State University, PhD from Washington State University, and now works on a variety of wildlife conservation projects incorporating field ecology, genetic laboratory work, and GIS modeling. His background is primarily focused on reptile and amphibian conservation, but enjoys the challenge of working on multiple species and systems at The Wilds. He also serves in positions in a number of conservation groups, including as secretary for the Ohio Fish and Wildlife Management Association and as Deputy Chair for the IUCN global Viper Specialist Group.

    The IUCN Viper Specialist Group: Successes, Challenges, and Opportunities for Achieving Conservation of Viper Species


    Stephen Spear, The Wilds, Cumberland OH, USA;

    Jesus Sigala-Rodriguez, Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes, México

    Christopher Jenkins, The Orianne Society, Tiger, GA, USA

    Rulon Clark, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA

    Jelka Crnobrnja-Isailović, University of Niš, Niš, Serbia

    Anita Malhotra, Bangor University, Wales, United Kingdom

    Bryan Maritz, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa

    Marcio Martins, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

    Kevin Messenger, Nanjing Forestry University, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China

    Johannes Penner, Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science, Berlin, Germany

    Mahmood Sasa, Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica

    Pritpal Soorae, Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

    Iván Villalobos, Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes, México


    No conflicts of interest


    Vipers are estimated to represent 20% of all threatened snake species, despite only making up 9% of total snake diversity. Despite the conservation need, historically there has been relatively little focused conservation priorities on viper species as a group, with most conservation action occurring toward a few focal species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Viper Specialist Group (VSG) was formed in 2010 to serve as a voice and facilitator for viper conservation worldwide. As with many IUCN specialist groups, the VSG is organized by geographic region, with each region coordinated by a regional chair. In addition to the regional coordinators, the VSG leadership committee includes the Chair, Deputy Chair, a Red List Authority Coordinator, and Program Manager. The initial goals and motivations of the VSG have been to set the stage for effective viper conservation, especially given the numerous gaps in data and conservation assessments for many viper species. For instance, many viper species have not been formally assessed through the IUCN red list. The VSG has focused on facilitating and completing more Red List assessments, and since 2012, nearly 100 new species assessments have been added. More work is needed as currently only 202 of ~329 viper species have had assessments published on the Red List, and we continue to work toward the goal of all vipers assessed under the Red List.  Complementary to the Red List efforts, the members of the VSG published a paper on global viper conservation prioritization that used a different set of criteria than the Red List (addressing both threat and evolutionary/ecological distinctiveness) and identified additional species of conservation concern, including many not yet formally assessed on the Red List. This effort highlighted geographic regions in greatest need for viper conservation and underscored the paucity of natural history and survey data available for many viper species. The VSG has been a supporter of researchers and conservation efforts for individual viper species. While the VSG is not a funding group for viper conservation, we have helped to provide guidance and direction to viper conservationists for funding support and provide endorsement of projects. This included working with the Rainforest Trust to create a protected area for the endangered viper Bitis albanica. The VSG is currently focused on its next phase to build on past accomplishments and identify continuing gaps and conservation needs. We are in the process of developing a global viper conservation action plan that will serve as a template for our efforts for years to come.  The plan will be organized by region and include an ex-situ conservation component. Developing effective tools for education and outreach, with attention to human health, is an important goal. We also are working to identify high priority areas that should be targets for species protection and to fill natural history gaps in viper knowledge. Collectively, the VSG shares the vision of this symposium for incorporating venomous snakes into flagship conservation efforts and are excited to discuss our priorities and goals within this symposium.