Small, secretive & highly venomous snake seen for first time in Nepal’s hills

  • In July 2022, a lesser black krait (Bungarus lividus), a small, secretive and highly venomous snake, was discovered in Dhankuta, Nepal’s eastern hills.
  • The snake, previously documented only in Nepal’s plains, was identified by veteran herpetologist Karan Bahadur Shah.
  • A study documenting the findings highlights the need for urgent measures, including the establishment of antivenom quick-treatment centers in local hospitals, raising awareness through campaign, and addressing potential human-snake conflicts in the wake of this discovery.

KATHMANDU – In July 2022, Tujin Rai, an undergraduate biology student, saw a dead snake outside his home in Dhankuta in Nepal’s eastern hills. He was curious to identify it.

Rai, who interns at the Kathmandu-based NGO Nature Conservation and Study Centre, posted the image of the snake on Facebook, where it was spotted by veteran herpetologist Karan Bahadur Shah.

“Prof. Shah identified the snake as a lesser black krait (Bungarus lividus),” Rai, whose findings were published in the journal Reptiles and Amphibians, recently told Mongabay. “Prof. Shah told me that the snake had so far only been documented in Nepal’s plains,” Rai said, adding that he again encountered a juvenile of the same species on June 15, 2023, around the same location.

The global conservation authority IUCN describes the lead-colored snake as “small, secretive, nocturnal and elapid” (having permanently erect fangs at the bottom of the mouth). Conservationists say these are characteristics that people are afraid of and lead to potential conflict with humans, especially as the snake is extremely venomous.

A 2011 study documented a case of fatal envenoming caused by a lesser black krait bite in the Bhutanese refugee camp in eastern Nepal. According to the study, a 22-year-old woman, who was bitten by the snake, died after suffering a burning sensation in her body and respiratory distress due to paralysis.

Kamal Devkota, a researcher specializing in snakes and not involved in the study, said that now that the snake has been described at higher altitudes, the challenge is to address potential conflict with humans. Although it hadn’t been documented in the mountains so far, researchers had a hunch the snake could be there, said Devkota.

A lesser black krait in West Bengal, India.
A lesser black krait in West Bengal, India. The IUCN describes the lead-colored snake as “small, secretive, nocturnal and elapid.” Image by Sp.herp via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

According to a study published in The Lancet Global Health, 251 people out of 100,000 living in Nepal’s plains are bitten by snakes every year, around half of whom (49%) suffer from envenoming. About 8% of those bitten die, which means almost every neighborhood in the plains has lost someone to snakebite. However, similar detailed studies are scarce for mountains and hills, where documentation of snake species is also poor.

Of the 89 species of snakes found in Nepal, around 20, including various cobras (Naja genus) and kraits (Bungarus genus), are believed to be venomous. But public awareness about which species present a danger is low.

Most snakebites in the mountains are attributed to species such as vipers and cobras, he added. According to a 2022 study, some of the known venomous snakes in Nepal’s hills and mountains are: Monocellate cobra (N. kaouthia), Himalayan krait (B. bungaroides), greater black krait (B. niger), king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), Himalayan pit viper (Gloydius himalayanus), Tibetan pit viper (Himalayophis tibetanus), mountain pit viper (Ovophis monticola), Himalayan habu pit viper (Protobothrops), white lipped pit viper (Trimeresurus albolabris) and Kramer’s pit viper (T. septentrionalis).

“Now we know that it could also be attributed to lesser black kraits as well,” he said.

According to a 2019 assessment, the “least concern” species has so far been found in agricultural areas, moist deciduous forests and urbanized areas. Although an assessment of its population is yet to be carried out, IUCN assessors list a host of threats facing the snake believed to live in Bangladesh, northeastern India, Nepal (Jhapa, Morang and Chitwan), and possibly Bhutan, at altitudes of up to to 340 meters (1,115 feet) above sea level. But in the case of Dhankuta, it was found at an altitude of 1,074 m (3,523 ft) above sea level.

Studies have shown that the snake is threatened by habitat destruction due to clearing of forests, development of infrastructure, expansion of agriculture, spreading of human settlements, road kills, killing due to fear and illegal exports. “The lesser black krait also faces these threats,” said Devkota. “Now we have the added responsibility to make people aware of the snake,” he added.

Rai and his co-authors state that now that the extremely venomous snake has been spotted in Dhankuta, officials should take the initiative to establish antivenom quick-treatment centers in at the local hospital and other health facilities, and run awareness campaigns to minimize human-snake conflicts.

Banner image: A lesser black krait in West Bengal, India. Image by avrajjal via iNaturalist (CC BY-NC 4.0).

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Rai, T., Limbu, S., Kunwar, N., & Shah, K. B. (2024). First record of lesser black krait, Bungarus lividus cantor 1839 from the mountain region of Nepal. Reptiles & Amphibians, 31(1). doi:10.17161/randa.v31i1.21194

Kuch, U., Sharma, S. K., Alirol, E., & Chappuis, F. (2011). Fatal neurotoxic envenomation from the bite of a lesser Black Krait (Bungarus Lividus) in Nepal. The Southeast Asian journal of tropical medicine and public health. Retrieved from

Alcoba, G., Sharma, S. K., Bolon, I., Ochoa, C., Babo Martins, S., Subedi, M., … Chappuis, F. (2022). Snakebite epidemiology in humans and domestic animals across the terai region in Nepal: A multicluster random survey. The Lancet Global Health, 10(3), e398-e408. doi:10.1016/s2214-109x(22)00028-6

Bogati, S., Bhatt, N., Nepal, S., Nepali, P., & Sharma, S. K. (2022). Snakebite in the hills and mountains of Nepal. Journal of Nepal Medical Association, 60(256), 1066-1069. doi:10.31729/jnma.7562