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Authored by Johannes Els

Member of the Viper Specialist Group, Middle East and North Africa

Department of Herpetology and Freshwater Fishes, Environment and Protected Areas Authority, Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, P.O. Box 29922, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Email: johannes.els@bceaw.ae.

The United Arab Emirates has four species of vipers from three genera. These include the Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii) which is locally known as the Sand Viper, the Sindh Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus sockureki), the Oman Carpet Viper (Echis omanensis) and the Persian False-horned Viper (Pseudocerates persicus).

The Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii) is the most widespread species of viper throughout the sandy desert areas of the United Arab Emirates. The common Sindh Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus sockureki) can be found throughout the country, both along the coast and inland, with limited distribution into the ecotone regions near the mountains. Some records now exist of populations isolated in the mountains, as well. The Oman Carpet Viper (Echis omanensis) is restricted to the mountains in the Northern Emirates, but they appear to be more dominant around permanent water areas. The Persian False-horned Viper (Pseudocerates persicus) is currently only known from three mountain localities within the United Arab Emirates.

All of the viper species conservation statuses were assessed in 2012: Cox, N.A., Mallon, D., Bowles, P., Els, J. and Tognelli, M.F. (compilers). (2012). the Conservation Status and Distribution of Reptiles of the Arabian Peninsula. Cambridge, UK and Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, and Sharjah, UAE: Environment and Protected Areas Authority. (Available on the internet at: https://portals.iucn.org/library/efiles/edocs/RL-53-002.pdf).

The Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii) and Sindh Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus sockureki) are listed as Least Concern, and neither is endemic to the United Arab Emirates. The Persian False-horned Viper (Pseudocerates persicus) is listed as Vulnerable and is not endemic to the United Arab Emirates. The Oman Carpet Viper is listed as Least Concern and is the only endemic viper species in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

With the exception of the Persian False-horned Viper (Pseudocerastes persicus), all of the other three viper species are common and widespread. Their taxonomic status, especially with reference to Echis, has been resolved in recent times. Almost nothing is known about the ecology of any of these vipers. Two of the species are in regular conflict with humans, the Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii) and the Sindh Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus sockureki). Since 2009, basic ecological data was collected from the Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii) from a study site located near the Sharjah Desert Park which gave significant insight to the species activity cycles, but due to limited resource data, collecting was restricted.

Currently, the first detailed distribution mapping of all four of the viper species within the United Arab Emirates will be done in collaboration with Pritpal S. Soorae, Viper Specialist Group Regional Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa based at the Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi. Future projects will focus on understanding the distribution of the seldom-seen Persian False-horned Viper (Pseudocerastes persicus) and having a better understanding of the activity cycles of the Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii) and the Sindh Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus sockureki) to aid in the human/animal conflict.

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