HUNVIPURS - Establishing the background of saving the Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis) from extinction

LIFE04 NAT/HU/000116

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Project description:


This species conservation project covers 95% of the global population of the Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis), a small venomous snake on the verge of extinction. Over the last 50 years it had already disappeared from Austria, Romania and Bulgaria. Its dramatic decline is largely the result of increasing agricultural pressures and a shift towards intensive cultivation.

In Hungary, only small and isolated populations remain: one very small population survives in the north-western Hanság region on 9 ha, whilst the other 11 isolated populations, comprising no more than 450-950 individuals in total, can be found in the Kiskunság region between the Danube and Tisza rivers. If this species was to be rescued from extinction, emergency actions were needed.


This LIFE Nature project aimed to bring all sites harbouring the vipers into state ownership, as this is the only way of ensuring the effective conservation of the species. Once the land is purchased, work will start on recreating grassland habitats in some areas, and in others on cutting down forests planted some 20 years ago on the elevated fields next to key viper habitats. Ecological corridors are to be created along these elevated areas. This will not only reconnect isolated populations but also provide the snakes with a safe environment in which to hibernate through winter, away from high groundwater levels.

At the same time, the snake population itself has to be reinforced through captive breeding. This is because long-term studies have shown that the small isolated populations in the wild are under a constant risk of inbreeding, and may thus become unable to reproduce effectively despite best management efforts. The semi-natural habitat conditions at the captive-breeding centre should help to minimise predation and maximise food abundance, so that sub-adult individuals can be successfully bred and released in the areas that will in the meantime be restored by the project.

In addition, information panels, leaflets and public forums will try to persuade the local community to understand and accept the conservation of this rare yet unpopular snake.


The four-year project was started on 01 January 2004. MME BirdLife Hungary coordinated the project with two partners: Duna-Ipoly National Park Directorate and Kiskunság National Park. Ministry of Environment and Water Affairs was co-financing the project. The main target area of the four-year project was the Peszéradacs region of Kiskunság, although monitoring activities were carried out in all areas where the species is found, including Bugac, Dabas-Gyón and Hanság area.

Grassland reconstruction was carried out by Kiskunság National Park, on a 26 ha site near Kunpeszér. A local management plan was prepared within the frame of the LIFE-project, later officially approved by KNPI. This management plan categorised different vegetation patches and gave suggestions about best management practices with the aim of accelerating the process of turning false acacia and pine plantations into favoured sandy pastures. In the last year of the LIFE-project, clear signs of repopulation were observed in certain areas of the site.

Until the end of 2006, MME BirdLife Hungary was leasing 540 ha of viper habitats in the “buffer-zone” of the Táborfalva shooting range near Dabas. But a change in the property management policy of the military has resulted in an abrupt end to the contract. However, the Hungarian army has asked DINPI, KNPI and MME to help in the development and control of a management plan for the site, obligatory to all future lessees, which should guarantee sound management of the habitat with regard to the needs of the target species.

With help of thorough monitoring of recent populations recent habitats were described with objective parameters, and guidelines for their management were prepared. Vegetation of all viper habitats was mapped. Data were collected along 20 transects, selected on nine recent viper habitats; characteristics of vegetation, availability of hiding places and density of prey items, such as orthopterans, lizards and rodents were regularly surveyed. The evaluation of data gleaned shows a tendency for preferences of transition zones by vipers contrary to preference of certain vegetation type. These zones are showing higher diversity of Orthoptera communities with larger densities. Availability of rodent holes is usually high in these zones, providing enough hiding places and seemingly not limiting vipers’ distribution. A cooperation agreement with the Mapping Division of the Ministry of Defence helped the monitoring and the building of a GIS-database.

A key achievement of the project was the creation of the Hungarian Meadow Viper Conservation Centre on a small farm in the vicinity of a recent habitat in Kiskunság, started with 10 adult individuals, collected from five different populations of Peszéradacs and Bugac. The centre has had four successful breeding periods resulting in a total of 161 vipers, including by females originally born in captivity. First genetic tests show that the offspring have higher genetic variability than their parents, a good sign for the future. Regular veterinary support is provided under the umbrella of an exemplary cooperation with Budapest Zoo. Also in the frame of this cooperation, the zoo set up a prey-breeding facility in order to be able to breed huge numbers of crickets, serving as the main food source for the vipers. Operation of the centre is supervised by the Hungarian Meadow Viper Conservation Council, which consists of experts and policymakers from the Nature Conservation Authority. The beneficiary plans to reintroduce the first group of vipers in the upcoming in 2009, guided by a Reintroduction Protocol of the Conservation Council.

The active protection of a venomous snake can be difficult to accept for the general public, therefore the beneficiary and partners designed their public awareness-raising activities carefully. Five press conferences were held during the project and eight press releases issued. The project organised eight public forums to inform locals living in the vicinity of viper habitats and produced leaflets, brochures and other publications. Other dissemination tools included information boards, conference presentations and a website.

The project team was invited to participate in the work of Experts in Herpetology of Bern Convention, resulting a European Action Plan on the Ursinii-complex. They also participated in the work of the Wildlife and Sustainable Farming Initiative, summarizing management guidelines for wet meadows, some of them serving as viper habitats. Cooperation agreements with Romanian institutions working with viper populations were signed, including with the Danube-Delta Institute of Research and Design in Tulcea, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iasi and the Romanian Herpetological Society in Cluj-Kolosvar. The Hungarian project also started cooperation with a similar French LIFE-project in the building of a European network of scientists working with vipers.

Disclaimer : This « results » section should be considered as a draft until the Commission has completed its evaluation . This project has been awarded the title of "Best of the Best" from a shortlist of 26 "Best" LIFE Nature projects in 2007-2008.


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Reptiles
Biodiversity issues - Ecological coherence


population dynamics‚  animal corridor‚  conservation of genetic resources‚  environmental education‚  environmental impact of agriculture‚  grassland ecosystem‚  introduction of animal species‚  monitoring‚  wildlife sanctuary‚  site rehabilitation‚  public awareness campaign‚  risk management‚  land restoration‚  restoration measure‚  conflicting use

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...
  • Decision 93/626 - Conclusion of the Convention on Biological Diversity (25.10.1993)
  • COM(98)42 -"Communication on a European Community Biodiversity Strategy" (05.02.1998)
  • COM(2001)162 -"Biodiversity Action Plan for the conservation of natural resources (vol. I & II)" ...

Target species

 Vipera ursinii rakosiensis     

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator MME BirdLife Hungary
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description MME was founded in 1974, when it had 200 members. It had developed to become the biggest conservation NGO in Hungary by 2003, when it had more than 7 500 members and was running 99 conservation projects. MME employs 40 people at its headquarters in Budapest, with another 50-100 people were working in local groups. MME is the BirdLife partner for Hungary.
Partners Kiskunság National Park, Hungary Duna-Ipoly National Park, Hungary


Project reference LIFE04 NAT/HU/000116
Duration 01-JAN-2004 to 31-DEC -2007
Total budget 649,000.00 €
EU contribution 324,500.00 €
Project location Associated Hungary (H)(Hungary Magyarország)


Read more:

Brochure "a Rákosi Vipera gyakorlati védelme" (2.57 MB)
Leaflet Leaflet of the project (HU)
Leaflet Leaflet of the project (EN)
Leaflet Brochure of the project on targeted species (HU)(1 ...
Newsletter Newsletter Winter 2007 (Year 3, number 4)
Poster "a Rákosi Vipera gyakorlati védelme [Poster]" (582 ...
Project web site Project's website (HU/EN)
Project web site - 2 Picasa page of the project
Publication: Case study "A rákosi vipera védelme tanulmánygyűjtemény / Stu ...
Publication: Layman report Layman report (HU)
Publication: Layman report Layman report (EN)


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version