x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Centre cracks how to breed Arabian cobras

In a scientific breakthrough, researchers at a Sharjah wildlife centre have bred the Arabian cobra in captivity for the first time in the world.

:After 59 days of carefully climate-controlled incubation at the Sharjah centre, 16 tiny Arabian Cobras finally came out of their shells.
:After 59 days of carefully climate-controlled incubation at the Sharjah centre, 16 tiny Arabian Cobras finally came out of their shells.

ABU DHABI // A wildlife centre has achieved a world first after successfully breeding the Arabian cobra in captivity.

Up to two metres long, the Arabian cobra is one of the largest venomous snakes in the Arabian region and is found in the highlands of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman.

Johannes Elf, the head of the herpetology and fresh water fish department at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife (BCEAW) in Sharjah, where the snakes were hatched, said it was a huge achievement. "Previously there was nothing known about these snakes, how they reproduced, and incubation," he said. "But we've monitored every aspect of the reproduction process."

Mr Elf said that part of the reason why the snakes had not been bred before was because they were difficult to find, often tucked away in hollow land."You may have one in your back garden and not even know about it," he said.

The other reason is the potential health risk they pose to researchers, he added.

"In order to work with venomous snakes, you really need to have a special interest in the field," he said. "There are not many people specialised in the field of venom."

The breeding process was not easy, Mr Elf said. In addition to taking extra precautions to make sure he was not bitten, such as limiting direct contact with the cobras by using a hook stick to guide the snakes, and having enough anti-venom serum handy, Mr Elf's second challenge was making sure the cobras did not consume each other.

"Male and female [Arabian cobras] can be cannibalistic," he said. "We have to observe them closely. Once we make sure that everything is OK, we can move forward with the breeding process."

The best way to boost the chances of reproduction, he said, was to replicate the snakes' natural setting, where they can comfortably move between hot and cooler climates. Interaction between the male and female cobras should also be limited, he said. For example, the cobras are apart when they are being fed. Once a female cobra is impregnated, it takes nearly a month and half before she lays her eggs, which are about 3.5cm wide and 6cm long.

Once the eggs are laid, the female cobra abandons them - leaving them to nature, or in this case, Mr Elf and his team of researchers, to make sure the eggs are in a healthy setting for them to hatch.

"The eggs need to be kept at a relatively humid setting," he said. After 59 days of incubation, 16 infant snakes hatched out of 19 eggs.

However people should not mistake these little creatures as harmless. "Many people think that newborn cobras are not dangerous," he said. "But from the moment they are born, their venom glands are mature enough to secrete [poisonous] venom."

mismail@thenational.ae