Upgrade of Red-Bellied Annulate Keelback to Endangered Species Status: Encouraging Friendly Farming Communities to Participate in Payments for Ecosystem Services

The red-bellied annulate keelback (Trimerodytes annularis, also known as the Asiatic banded water snake), formerly common in freshwater wetlands such as ponds, grassy marshes, and rice paddies, has become endangered in the last 50 years due to habitat loss and pesticide contamination. As a result, the Forestry and Nature Conservation Agency (FANCA) has decided to upgrade the conservation status of the red-bellied annulate keelback from a rare and valuable to an endangered protected species, effective from April 2, 2024 through a notice issued by the Ministry of Agriculture. In addition, FANCA has decided to include the species in the Payments for Ecosystem Services starting from November 2023 to encourage farmers and local residents to participate in conservation efforts.

According to FANCA, the red-bellied annulate keelback, which sports a brownish-black back and an orange-red belly and sides with black stripes, used to inhabit a variety of freshwater environments, such as low-elevation wetlands, grassy marshes, rice paddies, and ponds in western Taiwan. Before the 1970s, it was considered a common snake species. However, due to the use of pesticides and the disappearance of natural habitats such as wetlands and low-elevation wetlands as a result of land development, the red-bellied annulate keelback was classified as a rare and valuable protected species in 2008. In 2009, FANCA commissioned experts and scientists to conduct a four-year survey on the distribution of semi-aquatic snakes in Taiwan. It was found that the population of the red-bellied annulate keelback south of Hsinchu may have disappeared long before the survey, while the remaining population in northern Taiwan was shown to be endangered and sparsely distributed.

FANCA stated that an action plan for the conservation of the red-bellied annulate keelback had been drawn up. At the same time, the agency has also worked with the Yangmingshan National Park Headquarters, Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation, Taipei Zoo, Reptile Conservation Association of Taiwan, National Ilan University, and other organizations to carry out various conservation promotion activities.

FANCA added that the Payments for Ecosystem Services they advocate for is a system where the government pays “ecological salaries” to farmers and local residents who contribute to maintaining the habitats of endangered protected species. In this way, the costs of conservation are no longer borne solely by farmers or local residents. In addition, the system encourages residents to act as frontline conservationists. The red-bellied annulate keelback has been included in the Payments for Ecosystem Services since 2023. Incentives of up to NT$30,000 per hectare per year are provided to those who own at least 100 square meters (0.01 hectares) of farmland within the distribution area of its existing population, maintain water reservoirs on the farmland, and refrain from using herbicides, aquatic biotoxic pesticides, and oils and saponins for pest control throughout the year. In addition, incentives of up to NT$30,000 per person per year are offered to farmers who create suitable habitats for the red-bellied annulate keelback. This includes creating and maintaining ecological ponds. However, such habitats must be inspected by the relevant authorities to confirm that they provide suitable living conditions for the species.  In addition, community development associations or local organizations can receive up to NT$60,000 per year if they establish patrol teams to regularly monitor red-bellied annulate keelback habitats and plant vegetation, remove invasive alien species, and report illegal catching of protected species.
The areas where the Payments for Ecosystem Services are implemented to protect the red-bellied annulate keelback include Hutian Village in Beitou District, Taipei City and Longtan District, Taoyuan City. If people find the red-bellied annulate keelback in natural habitats in other areas (non-captured and released specimens), please notify FANCA as soon as possible so that conservation efforts can be more comprehensive and thorough.

FANCA reminds the public that any illegal behavior such as harassment, abuse, poaching, slaughter, or other exploitation of the species will be prosecuted and fined in accordance with Articles 41 and 42 of the Wildlife Conservation Act.
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