UAE: Venomous viper attacks 3 huskies, leaves them in critical condition

As temperatures rise, snakes become more active, and it is possible to see an increase in their movements as they search for food and other resources, says expert


Ajanta Paul

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Published: Sat 25 May 2024, 2:20 PM

Last updated: Mon 3 Jun 2024, 3:19 PM

Early Friday morning, the caretaker of Stray Dogs Center in Umm Al Quwain heard a ruckus in one section of the shelter. He rushed to the small area and was stunned by what he saw.

"Three of our huskies were bitten by a viper in our sanctuary area where dogs from the purebred unit run freely every day," said Amirah William, the founder of Stray Dogs Center. At the time, seven dogs were running freely in that section.

The three huskies — Betty, Wally, and Janny — were administered emergency treatment at the shelter and transferred to the British Veterinary Hospital within 30 minutes of being bitten.

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Speaking to Khaleej Times, the founder said, "All three were bitten on the face and were in critical condition. We will have to wait and see whether or not the anti-venom, along with supportive treatment, has worked."

The New Zealander explained how the viper entered the centre: "After the storm in mid-April, we added a drain hole in the small sanctuary area. The snake got through the drainage hole as the entire shelter is protected by brick fencing."

Watch the video posted by Stray Dogs Center below.

British national Waddah Moseley, a Zoological and Animal Welfare Specialist, said, "Looking at the video, the snake appears to be an adult female due to its size. Arabian Horned Vipers usually reach this size around 2-4 years old."

These vipers are venomous and can pose a significant risk to humans. Waddah said, "Their venom primarily causes pain and swelling, but it can also lead to more severe symptoms like tissue damage or systemic effects if left untreated. However, fatalities are rare with prompt medical treatment."

Arabian Horned Viper
Arabian Horned Viper

Still in hospital

Needing support, Amirah reached out to her contacts to find a source for anti-venom. She received anonymous help who arranged for the dogs to be taken to her vet, one of the few clinics that stock anti-venom.

"I then posted the plea on socials for support. Upon seeing the plea, we received the sponsorship of their treatment," said Amirah.

Dr Gareth Enslin from the British Veterinary Hospital gave an update on the huskies and said they had a stable night. "All three did not eat overnight, but it is understandable with their mouths swollen and sore." For now, they are on drips, pain management, and antibiotics — and will be monitored for if a blood transfusion is required.

The viper was safely cornered with a dog crate and broomstick to guide it back to the drainage hole. The caretakers later found that it had slithered away, and the drainage hole now has a steel mesh cover to ensure safety.

"We have encountered many snakes over the years. As a 'No kill' shelter, that policy extends to all living creatures. Unlike today, we catch these reptiles when they venture into our shelter and release them into the snake sanctuary approximately 1 km down the road," said Amirah.

Nothing to fear

Reacting to how people get alarmed at the mention of venomous snakes in the area, she said, "The desert is their natural habitat. We invaded their home. Although some are dangerous, they are beautiful creatures. It's up to us to find ways to coexist with the desert inhabitants."

Waddah assured that residents have nothing to fear. "While it is natural to be cautious around venomous snakes like the Arabian horned viper, there is no need for undue fear. These snakes are typically reclusive and avoid human interaction. With proper awareness and respect for their habitat, the risk of encountering and being harmed by these vipers is minimal."

As temperatures soar, snakes become more active, and it is possible to see an increase in their movements as they search for food and other resources. Waddah said that this might lead to more frequent sightings in areas near their natural habitats, but they generally do not venture far into human-populated areas.

How to stay protected

He added that snakebite incidents are relatively rare in the UAE. On average, healthcare facilities report a handful of cases each year, most of which involve non-lethal bites that can be effectively treated with prompt medical attention.

To minimise the risk of snake encounters, community members should avoid walking through tall grass or rocky areas without proper footwear, stay alert when outdoors, and refrain from disturbing snakes if they see them. Ensuring homes and gardens are free of debris and food waste can also help deter snakes.

What to do when bitten by snake

"If you encounter a viper, it is important to remain calm and slowly back away from the snake. Please do not attempt to touch or capture it. Keeping a safe distance and allowing the snake to move away on its own is the best course of action. If the snake is in danger or poses a risk to the public, you should call the municipality to relocate the snake to a safer area," advised Waddah.

In the event of a snakebite, the priority is to seek immediate medical attention. Avoid applying ice, tourniquets, or sucking/cutting the wound, as these measures can cause further harm.

Taking a clear photo of the snake from a safe distance will assist medical teams in identifying the species of the snake and choosing the right treatment for that specific species, said Waddah, who lived in the UAE for 11 years.

The Brit added, "Education and awareness are key to coexisting safely with snakes. Learning to identify local snake species, understanding their behaviour, and knowing what to do in case of an encounter can greatly reduce the risks."

The UAE is home to several viper species, including the Arabian horned viper and the saw-scaled viper. Besides vipers, the UAE hosts a variety of other snakes, such as the sand boa, Schokari Sand Racer and the Desert False Cobra.

Rescued dogs

The Stray Dogs Center is the UAE's largest rescue shelter, home to 1,300 dogs and was founded in 2013. The land for the project was granted by the Ruler of Umm Al Quwain Seikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla in 2014.

The centre's founder said that the shelter relies solely on public support to operate through book and calendar sales and paid initiatives like doga (the practice of yoga as exercise with pet dogs) and dog hikes.

Doga session
Doga session

Amirah said, "Our sponsorship programmes that include (but are not limited to) dog sponsorship, food, vet bills, construction, etc., also help us keep our doors open.

"Volunteers play a huge supportive role in the shelter's operations, providing love and affection, socialising with our dogs, and preparing them for foster or adoption."


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