x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai residents on high alert after venomous snake spotted

The sighting of a poisonous saw-scaled viper, puts residents at the Hattan community of The Lakes development in Dubai on high alert.

A saw-scaled viper, like this one pictured, was spotted in a resident's back garden last month in the Hattan community of The Lakes development in Dubai.
A saw-scaled viper, like this one pictured, was spotted in a resident's back garden last month in the Hattan community of The Lakes development in Dubai.

DUBAI // Beware that rustling noise from the bushes – it could be a venomous, saw-scaled viper with a bite among the deadliest in the world.

A sighting of the small speckled reptile in a villa community has led to warnings for children to be careful while playing and adults to be alert on nightly walks. Snake repellent is also being sprayed weekly after the viper was spotted in a back yard in the Hattan community of The Lakes last month.

"We have told our children not to play near bushes or hedges and to play in the open areas instead," said Christine, a South African.

"Security guards have told people who walk at night to be careful. There is no panic, everything is still normal. It's just that people should be aware."

The owners' association distributed a warning notice with photos of the saw-scaled viper taken by one resident's driver.

"It is not the intention to alarm but to inform you so you can be on your guard, especially those with small children, in respect of the presence of a snake species that warrants an alert as it can be aggressive and venomous," the notice said.

"It was confirmed by Dubai Municipality Pest Control Section that the snake species found and photographed in the area is a saw-scaled viper. There have been several snake sightings, though many unconfirmed and probably even more unreported."

Copies of a municipality fact sheet on common snakes found in Dubai have been distributed to residents. The notice identifies the viper as an aggressive predator that hunts mainly at night, is easily provoked and strikes rapidly when it senses danger.

The saw-scaled viper is also listed as one of five dangerous snakes in the emirate. When threatened, it curls into a series of c-shaped coils and produces a loud, rasping warning hiss, the notice said.

Dr Reza Khan, wildlife and zoo specialist with Dubai Municipality, said people should never attempt to handle the snake or to approach it.

"The saw-scaled viper is a nocturnal creature and it rests by day in cool places," he said. "I don't believe there are many vipers in that area as this is the first time one has been spotted.

"People should avoid going close to any snake, whether venomous or non-venomous, because a snake will immediately strike, fearing that the human will attack it. That's how the snake's brain works."

Dr Khan suggested clearing up yards, thick vegetation and piles of leaves where snakes may hide.

"Cleanliness is the number-one solution," he said. "People must keep areas clean of all rubbish and children should not go near hedges or bushes. Gardeners should trim hedges. Rodents must be controlled, because without food and proper shelter, snakes will move. Snakes do not respond to any pesticide, herbicide or insecticides."

After the snake sightings, the area has been sprayed once a week with municipality-approved snake repellent as a precaution.
"So far, the snakes caught are non-poisonous. We have never seen any harmful snakes," said a pest control officer.

"A snake is not a public-health pest, but a reptile. We don't have the training to catch snakes, nor are we authorised to."

Another snake, found dead after it was run over by a car, has been identified as non-venomous by the municipality last month.

Residents in the nearby Lakes community said they too were on alert, though snakes have not been spotted there yet
"It's not like the snakes will stay only in one area, so we are more alert and don't let our dogs out without a leash," said Anil, an Indian resident.

"Actually, the desert is the snakes' home, isn't it? We have encroached on their territory."

rtalwar@thenational.ae