• Nimish Peter

Vipers in the UAE

It’s a bit unusual to see a hi-fi city in the middle of a desert. With its luxury shopping malls, lively nightlife, tourist spots and the ever-dominating Burj Khalifa soaring over the city, Dubai has never failed to surprise anyone. However, it was altogether a different experience for me while I was working in Dubai. I was drawn more towards the different kinds of wildlife, flora and fauna of the desert and I made it a point to spend time exploring the same. As a passionate traveller and photographer, I would like to describe some of my ventures here.

Out of all my ventures, the one that I consider of utmost significance is that where I undertook to find some of the venomous snakes in their natural habitats. There are 4 types of venomous snakes in the UAE out of which 2 are endemic to deserts. The Arabian Horned Viper has a sandy brown color that goes with the color of sand. Their head is broad and roughly triangular. These are capable of injecting large amounts of venom into prey. Yet another dangerous snake is the Saw Scaled Viper, which is usually found in deserts as well as places with some vegetation.

The Persian Horned Viper are mostly seen at a height of about 600 ft above the Mean Sea Level. The most difficult snake to find in UAE due to living in high altitude in harsh condition. The Omani Carpet Vipers are exclusively found on mountain slopes and Wadis. It is the deadliest snake in the UAE and the worldwide. But easy to find in the mountains and wadi.

My friend Ajmal was the one who taught me all about snakes. In my very first venture, I was accompanied by Ajmal. We started at around 9 PM with some water bottles, a torch, a pair of boots and my camera along with the 105 mm 2.8 lens.

In the UAE, snakes are mostly found during the months of June to August. It’s by following the snake tracks that one finds the way to the snakes’ habitats in deserts. It takes quite a long while at times. The presence of wind makes it even more difficult to follow the tracks as it deposits more sand over the tracks. On the first day, despite spending around 5 hours looking for the snakes, we could find none. However, to our joy, on our way back we spotted an isolated tree where I saw a Saw Scaled Viper for the first time in my life. It’s not easy to spot one. One needs to carefully observe to find one. This is one of the 7 deadliest snakes in the world.

Our next target was to find the Arabian Horned Viper. Hence, on another one of our explorations, we found one with a pair of spectacular horns on its head. It seemed to be on the lookout for prey. It was barely visible from all the sand on top of it, except for its head. Ajmal was more than happy to find this one as it was as rare as 2 out of 100 to find one with horns.

Next up was the Omani Carpet Viper, which is usually found in a Wadi. We were fortunate enough to find one the moment we stepped into the Wadi. By the end of the day, we had ended up spotting 3 of the same.

Our personal favorite amongst all the findings was the Persian Horned Viper, which is endemic to the Hajar mountains. They are a very difficult to find, due to high altitudes in Hajar mountains and being very shy and well camouflaged on the rocks. Myself, Ajmal, Glenn and Gareth started our journey at 8pm. We climbed around 600- 800 mts up above the mountain to reach its habitat. It is considered next to impossible to spot one as its body color matches with that of the rocks of the surroundings .It took us 5 hours and an equivalent will power to reach our destination. This was easily one of the biggest risks in my entire life. I was half-dead by the time we reached on top of the mountain. The bruises on my body were proof of the hardships of the journey. But I couldn’t care less, for there lay the Persian Horned Viper that we came for, with its head barely visible from underneath the layer of rocks. We also saw 2 Persian horn vipers . Without wasting much time, I took some photos and headed down. Until then, I never really thought it was possible to feel content. But there I was, literally on cloud nine.

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