Nine venomous baby ocellate mountain vipers were born at the St. Louis Zoo this August. The orange-brownish spotted snakes were thought to be extinct for 140 years only to be rediscovered in 1983.

"There are only three zoos in the United States that maintain that species and we have the largest number," curator of Herpetology & Aquatics Jeff Ettling told "There are a total of 28 of them in the country and we have 23 right here, which includes the nine new babies."

The species was thought to be extinct after a label incorrectly read that the snakes inhabited only an area of northwestern Iran.

"For that reason they were thought to be extinct for 140 years," says Ettling.  "It wasn't until 1983 that a couple German entomologists rediscovered them in Northeastern Turkey so they were off a little bit."

As soon as the word got out that the rare snake species were still alive and slithering in eastern Turkey, snake collectors rushed to scoop up as many of the already wiped-out species as they could.

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Although the snakes aren't as cute and cuddly as other creatures housed in the St. Louis Zoo, the venomous vipers have a special place in Ettling's heart.

"To me being the champion of a species that are so maligned and has a bad rap," says Ettling.  "That's kind of my goal to change those attitudes of people."

Just don't get too up close and personal with the snakes; Ettling warns they "have fangs that hinge outwards" and can "actually go right through the screen" of their cage.

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