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The most dangerous animals native to the Arabian Peninsula

Published: Updated:

While a ‘big cat’ reportedly on the loose in Dubai turned out to be nothing more than a regular-sized house cat, the fact remains that exotic animals make popular pets in the Arabian Peninsula.

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Police in the United Arab Emirates have since been cracking down on the ownership of dangerous animals.

Dubai Police said in a statement that they responded to several violations of a 2016 law banning exotic pets in the weeks following the supposed sighting.

People in Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have been known to pay more than $6,000 for pet cheetahs, according to a report from the Saudi Gazette, despite the fact that it is illegal to own predators in the Kingdom.

But since antiquity, long before imported exotic pets became status symbols for some of the region’s residents, the peninsula has been home to a number of dangerous animals.

Here are some of the most dangerous animals native to the Arabian Peninsula:

File photo of a striped hyena. (Rushikesh Deshmukh)
File photo of a striped hyena. (Rushikesh Deshmukh)

Striped hyenas

Smaller than their African cousins, the spotted hyenas, striped hyenas can weigh up to around 50 kilograms.

A man in his 50s was attacked and killed by a wild hyena in Yemen in 2014, according to a report from Dubai-based Gulf News.

Attacks by the same species have also been reported in India. A man and woman were severely injured after being attacked by a striped hyena in the city of Chhota Udepur, according to the Times of India.

The striped hyena’s numbers in the Arabian Peninsula are dwindling. International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the species as ‘near threatened,’ with only around 10,000 left in the wild.

Hyenas are threatened by hunters in Saudi Arabia, as their flesh is considered a delicacy by some.

A restaurant in the southern Asir region was shut down by the authorities and the owner fined $2,666 after it was found to be selling hyena meat.

Striped hyenas are found in Yemen, parts of Oman, and western and northern Saudi Arabia.

In this Tuesday, July 30, 2013 photo, a four year old Arabian leopard called Spoti approaches the camera at the Breeding Center for the Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. (File photo: AP)
In this Tuesday, July 30, 2013 photo, a four year old Arabian leopard called Spoti approaches the camera at the Breeding Center for the Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. (File photo: AP)

Arabian leopard

The critically endangered Arabian leopard is the smallest of leopard subspecies. It is believed to have once lived in all the mountainous regions of the peninsula, according to the World Conservation Union, but now only scattered pockets of habitats remain.

Exact numbers are not known, but only an estimated 100 to 250 Arabian leopards still exist in the wild, with around 50 thought to be living in Saudi Arabia, according to the Royal Commission for AlUla.

Known populations exist in western Saudi Arabia and Yemen, southern Oman, the UAE, and the Sinai peninsula.

Arabian leopards are under threat from hunters. A Saudi man inadvertently poisoned an Arabian leopard in 2014 that had killed seven of his camels, according to the Saudi Gazette.

Honey badger

Despite the sweet-sounding name, the honey badger is a deceptively ferocious creature.

It has thick skin that serves as armor against attacks from wasps, snakes, and larger predators. Its skin is also especially loose, allowing it to twist around and bite an attacker that has managed to grab hold of it, according to the San Diego Zoo.

One sighting in South Africa saw two honey badgers, only around 60cm long, take on six lions in a fight and walk away largely unscathed.

Honey badgers are common in Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent.

The deadly fat-tailed scorpion. (Per-Anders Olsson)
The deadly fat-tailed scorpion. (Per-Anders Olsson)

Scorpions

Scorpions in the Arabian Peninsula pose a serious threat to humans.

There is no lack of variety when it comes to the deadly arachnids; more than ten species were found in the Riyadh region alone in a 2009 study called ‘New Additions to the Scorpion Fauna of Riyadh Region, Saudi Arabia’ published in the Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins Including Tropical Diseases.

Related to spiders, scorpions are found in every continent but are concentrated in desert regions.

Some of the most dangerous species are found in the Arabian Peninsula including the fat-tailed scorpion which can fatally sting a human, according to the St Louis Zoo.

But despite their fearsome reputation and the lethality of some species, the vast majority of scorpion stings will only cause minor reactions.

Read more:

Dubai Police warn public after large wildcat reportedly spotted

Dubai authorities say cracking down on owners of illegal wildlife

UAE penalizes possession of wild animals with hefty fines, life in prison