(JTA) — Israel declared as its national snake a species that is called Palestine viper in English and Latin.
The species, whose names in Hebrew are Common Viper or Land of Israel Viper, was declared Israel’s official snake on Thursday by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Israel Nature and Parks Authority following an online vote.
Separately, on Tuesday a snake catcher removed a coin-marked snake — a nonvenomous species that mimics the viper for defensive purposes and also preys on the viper — from the cracks of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The snake caused a panic when worshippers saw it emerging from between the cracks of the ancient stones of the holy site.
The deadly Palestine Viper, or Daboia palaestinae in Latin, received 39 percent of 9,419 votes compared to 12 percent that went to the nonvenomous runner-up, the black whipsnake.
Some 300 people are bitten by the Palestine Viper annually in Israel and the West Bank, though deaths are extremely rare thanks to the availability of a serum developed by Israel. Each dose costs thousands of dollars to produce.
The viper lives in Israel, the West Bank, parts of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The Austrian herpetologist Franz Werner gave the snake its Latin name when he documented it in prestate Israel, which was then part of the British Mandate over Palestine.
Measuring up to 5 feet, the Palestine Viper is responsible for an overwhelming majority of venomous snake bites in Israel, which has 42 species of snakes including nine venomous ones.
The campaign to select a national snake in Israel was initiated by Avi Zobel, a snake catcher and activist for the preservation of reptile species in Israel. It was then sponsored by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which gave it an official status.
In 2008, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority declared the Hoopoe as Israel’s national bird following a similar vote. In September, Nebo hierichonticus, Israel’s largest scorpion species, was declared its national scorpion. In Hebrew, the scorpion is called Nebo Jericho, after the Palestinian city in the West Bank.