Meghri Mountains
Photo: Mark Wanner, Saint Louis Zoo

Armenia is home to 58 species of amphibians and reptiles that are vital to Armenia's culture and ecosystem and essential to the Armenian landscape and the people who live there. Alarmingly, 30 of those species are listed as threatened. Human impact on native ecosystems, primarily through mining and agriculture, has caused habitat loss or fragmentation for these species. Eleven of Armenia's native species - two amphibians and nine reptiles - are only found in the Armenian Highlands and Lesser Caucasus Mountains and are declining rapidly. Without human intervention, these species could go extinct. Will you help us save them?

Armenian Viper at the Saint Louis Zoo
Photo: Ray Meibaum

With your help, the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in Western Asia and our partners plan to establish a conservation breeding center on the outskirts of Yerevan, Armenia. We will purchase an existing house and re-purpose it to maintain and breed imperiled species of amphibians and reptiles. This program will initially focus on two or three species - Armenian viper, Darevsky's viper and Armenian steppe viper - and will gradually address the remaining species over time. Strict quarantine protocols will be enforced, and outdoor space will eventually accommodate the spur-thighed tortoise and several species of lizards. Offspring produced at the center will augment wild populations. The genetic integrity of each population will be maintained by collecting breeding stock from specific locations and by only releasing the captive-produced offspring at those same locations.

Base Camp on Meghri Ridge
Photo: Mark Wanner, Saint Louis Zoo

The center will include a kitchen, an office and sleeping quarters for visiting researchers, plus space for breeding and raising invertebrates and rodents to ensure the amphibians and reptiles receive the highest quality nutrition. The center will be staffed by a director - one of the Saint Louis Zoo's long-time collaborators, Levon Aghasyan, Ph.D. - and two keepers. Dr. Aghasyan received a Fulbright Scholarship to spend eight months at the Saint Louis Zoo learning modern amphibian and reptile husbandry techniques from our herpetological staff. Since 2004, our WildCare Center for Conservation in Western Asia has focused on the Armenian viper, whose population numbers have decreased by 88 percent over the past 20 years. The Saint Louis Zoo has become a leader for its work with mountain vipers over the past decade, and our studies of captive vipers have already provided useful information on reproduction and behavior.

"We envision that integrating our conservation programs in the field with the research and husbandry we do with animals in our care will help us secure the future for all of Armenia's threatened amphibians, reptiles and their respective habitats," says Jeff Ettling, Ph.D., Director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in Western Asia.

Your contribution to our fundraising goal will help us purchase a house, renovate it to lodge and breed amphibians and reptiles, and outfit the facility with caging and other equipment. This will be the first-ever conservation breeding center in Armenia, and YOU can help us reach our goal of zero extinction for Armenia's amphibians and reptiles.

Poppy Field in Armenia
Photo: Mark Wanner, Saint Louis Zoo