Newsletter, April 2001

Newsletter, April 2001


Snakes: Cause for concern?

Most people are more afraid of snakes than weapons or other people. This is understandable as certain snakes are venomous and can cause fatalities, but the probability of being fatally bitten by a snake is low. The following table was published in the New Scientist of 3 March 2001 and indicates potential cause of human death and the probability of being affected.

Cause of death Probability
Traffic accident 1 in 100
Murder 1 in 300
Fire 1 in 800
Firearms accident 1 in 2500
Electrocution 1 in 5000
Passenger aircraft crash 1 in 20 000
Asteroid or comet impact 1 in 20 000
Flood 1 in 30 000
Tornado 1 in 60 000
Venomous bite or sting 1 in 100 000
Firework accident 1 in 1 million
Food poisoning by botulism 1 in 3 million

[Now of course everything is relative, for instance, if you find yourself unlucky enough to be in Angola the probability of being blown up by a landmine would be quite high]

Twenty-one species of snakes belonging to 6 families occur (including offshore) in the UAE. Of these, only four terrestrial species (Family Viperidae - True Vipers) and eight marine species (Family Hydrophiidae) are potentially dangerous.

Of the four Viper species found in the UAE the Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus) is potentially the most dangerous with case fatalities reported as 5-10% in hospitalized cases. Saw-scaled Viper venom is haemotoxic or vasculotoxic causing local pain and swelling and widespread bleeding. Carpet Viper (Echis coloratus) and Sand Viper (Cerastes cerastes) venom is potentially dangerous although symptoms are less severe than for the Saw-scaled Viper and fatalities are rare. Very little is known about the False-horned Viper (Pseudocerastes persicus), a potentially dangerous snake of high altitudes, but rarely encountered. Sea snake bites are not painful and 50% of bites do not result in envenoming. The venom is neurotoxic and results in muscle paralysis.

Bites of the rear-fanged Colubrids, mildly toxic and/or harmless snakes, may occasionally result in envenoming with pain and local swelling being common. As a general rule-of-thumb in the UAE, snakes, which are long and slender, are harmless while short and stocky snakes are potentially dangerous.

First Aid

Evacuation of the unfortunate person to the nearest hospital or clinic (most large hospitals and clinics have anti-venom) is advisable, especially if bitten by a potentially dangerous or unidentified snake. A pressure bandage (splint limb if possible) should be wrapped around the bitten limb and mobility restricted where possible resulting in delaying the absorption of venom. Fortunately bites of venomous snakes encountered in the UAE rarely develop irreversible life-threatening situations within six hours.

Snakes are extremely beautiful and interesting creatures certainly not out to "get" humans or afflicted with the devil. In fact most snakes I have encountered are passive and only strike or try and defend themselves when actively harassed. In all cases the snakes have always tried to escape before attempting to defend themselves. Inflating the body and rubbing the scales on the flanks together causes the early warning rasping sound used by Saw-scaled Vipers. An interesting theory exists that this warning sound has evolved in an arid environment instead of hissing, which results in the loss of water vapor.

A quote by an anonymous source I came across recently sums it up: "We only conserve what we love. We only love what we know. We only know what we are taught."

Report by Peter Cunningham

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Inter Emirates Weekend Wrap up

We can all now breathe a collective sigh of relief!

Our busy April has finally ended, and not with a whimper but with a bang! The Inter Emirates Weekend (IEW) concluded Friday with exhausted but satisfied visitors from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Muscat heading home with a new appreciation of Al Ain and some of the activities we in the Garden City sometimes take for granted.

One of the most positive developments of the weekend was a commitment of each group to work harder to communicate with one another so that members of each individual chapter can take advantage of events staged in other communities. Likewise, friends from Oman promised to keep in touch and provide whatever assistance and support those of us in the ENHG may require on one of our sojourns into Oman. With border restrictions easing, there will likely be more trips to Turtle Beach, Nizwa and Salalah.

For most, the IEW weekend began at the welcome desk at the Intercontinental Hotel where Diane Evans and Ellen McFarland greeted the weary travelers and double-checked our records for dinner guests and tour participants. Each visitor received a welcome message, some complimentary refreshments, and a copy of Phil Iddison's superb guide to the Al Ain Oasis.

Thursday evening, despite a stiff breeze which caused havoc with the tent, more than 120 made their way to the desert dinner where, after an enjoyable meal, Steve James of the Abu Dhabi chapter presented Mike Gillet of the UAE University with the Bish Brown Award in recognition of Mike's contributions to the study and recording of natural history in the UAE. Tony Revel was busy after dinner sharing his telescope with the visitors while Brigitte Howarth had a gaggle of individuals around her display of flying, creeping and crawling creatures.

Friday morning, the Al Ain volunteers were in action shortly after sunrise, leading tours to several of the more popular destinations in and around Al Ain.

Diane Evans was first off the mark with a birding trip. Although there were fewer birds about than the enthusiasts might have preferred, the group returned to the Intercontinental Hotel satisfied and in time for individuals to join other tours.

Bill Jones was next to lead a group of excited visitors from the parking lot, taking about 20 to the Hanging Gardens where, in addition to the regular features of plants and birds, the group enjoyed a tour of some ancient shelters near the Gardens.

Debbie Handley's expedition was away before 9 am to spend much of the morning at Fossil Valley. The group also found time to make a short trip to Mahdah before lunch.

With too few individuals signing up to warrant separate trips to the Hili Archaeology Park and the Jebel Hafit tombs, Ibrahim Zakhour combined the two trips to provide archaeology buffs with a complete morning's package of highlights.

Likewise, there were too few individuals to warrant a separate arthropod trip so bug collectors who would have joined Brigitte Howarth for a morning field trip joined those who had signed up for a tour of Wadi Khutwah with Brien Holmes.

More than 10 vehicles traveled off to Dhub Valley for the event lead by Peter Cunningham. Visitors were very impressed with Peter's wealth of knowledge about the life and times of the dhubs. Peter had taken the trouble to catch one of the spiny-tailed lizards so the guests could study the dhub. All vehicles returned without incident.

Finally, Phil Iddison lead a large group on a tour of the Al Ain Oasis, one of the more popular choices for Friday.

Each group, in turn, returned to the restaurant at Ain al Fayda for lunch. The stragglers were still checking out around 5 pm Friday.

Thanks to Rania and Pinto at the Intercontinental Hotel and Mohamed Daher at Ain al Fayda for their support and assistance.

The Abu Dhabi chapter will host the event next year, likely in March, 2002.

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Restaurant review

by Philmebellyfull

There was a large gathering of the Culinary Society last night, its ranks swelled by the presence of three generations of Rufina's family.

The venue was the new restaurant in the midst of the oasis, a peaceful and tranquil setting considering that you are in the centre of a city of 200 000 people! The restaurant is constructed of materials taken from the oasis, giving it a natural and rustic feel.

The starters ( houmos, green salad, etc.) were very nice but the main dishes were mixed. The "fish and chips" looked good, people were pleased with the meat/fish byriani but the mixed grill was mediocre. It is a place you would go more for the atmosphere rather than the cuisine!

The service was slow although it was difficult to be annoyed with the waiters as they seemed very pleasant.

Conversation as usual was about parrots and dogs. Beverley, Rufina and Claire were bragging about how many times they had seen Tom Jones and Karen had the audacity to ridicule my attire. She did immediately realise her mistake and with her white, woollen turtle neck looked like a lamb to the slaughter. However, I promised to be kind to her and I need say no more.

We ended the evening by retiring to the Majlis and enjoying tea, coffee and ice cream, imagining what it must have been like to have been a Sultan!

Food Quality ***
Service **
Company *****
Value for money ***

ps. For all of you going to exotic locations I look forward to hearing about your culinary experiences and any "tails" that you may have to tell us about on your return.


Regards, Philmebellyfull.

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Inter Emirates Weekend -- Oasis Tour

by Philip Iddison

The group of Inter-Emirates Weekenders, which assembled at the Al Ain Museum on Friday 20th April, numbered 16 adults, 2 buggies and attendant toddlers, all of whom managed to complete the whole course. We were fortunate to have Gary Feulner and Mike Gillett along to bolster the technical expertise.

The route described in the booklet was followed and as on previous trips there were plenty of regular items to view and also some new observations. An early siting was blossom and fruit starting to set on a guava tree. There were also plenty of small figs to be seen and there was discussion about the variety of leaf shapes on the fig plants. Young leaves tend to be heavily dissected whilst more mature leaves vary from entire to the more classic lobed shape. The mango trees were bearing medium sized green fruit, suitable for pickling and possibly a local source of the fruit currently on sale in the Suq as Samak.

At the point in the wadi where the falaj can be viewed, Hoda advised us that the signs in Arabic forbade washing in the falaj or washing cars with the water. The abandoned toothbrush and toothpaste tubes indicated that some form of ablutions were still going on!

On a more serious note we found an unusual bushy tree a litle further down the wadi, it was in flower and giving off an intense perfume. Gary spotted some immature fruit which enabled him to confirm it to be Cordia spp., possibly C. mixa. We will have to return and see the ripe fruit for a positive ID.

A splash of red colour in the distance against a backdrop of palm leaves was revealed by binoculars to be the terminal flower spray of a large henna bush, Lawsonia inermis. In the bed of Wadi Sarooj there were several plants in flower despite the relatively dry winter. Tentative identifications of a couple were Convolvulus deserti in flower and Heliotropum spp., possibly H. kotschys which had some flowers but was mostly at the seed stage.

The magnificent Acacia nilotica on the edge of the wadi had had two major branches lopped off. However the main trunk is still healthy and the tree was covered in fresh green pods with their characteristic pinched shape. There was also a lone spray of flowers to complete the picture. The local name is garat and the seeds were ground up and placed on burns to dry the wound, it is still on sale in the local spice suq. This tree's offspring in the wadi downstream were likewise covered with seed pods and clearly showed that the young bark is smooth and golden brown. It could be mistaken for Acacia tortillis but soon starts to develop the roughness and deep vertical ribs observed in the mature specimen upstream.

Mike Gillett noted that the number of butterflies to be seen was disappointing, he had seen only 5 or 6 species and in small numbers compare to what he would have expected and also compared to recent observations in the Omani oases.

Mike Wolfe saw some fish in one of the distribution channels and Gary identified them as Garra barreimiae (reference Tribulus Volume 8.2). At this point the two Mikes and Gary had fallen behind the main party and are therefore missing in the attached photo of our group.

Almost the last thing that caught Gary's attention were several bank mynahs (Acridotheres ginginianus) which were drinking or feeding in a date garden which had recently been watered and which had some standing water pools. This bird is an introduction, believed to have escaped from captivity in the 1970's from Al Ain Zoo.

The walk lasted nearly three hours and by the end we were glad of the shade from the palms, the temperature at noon is on the point of making these walks a little uncomfortable.

To view photos taken during the walk, click here.

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