Egypt’s scorpion king hunts fortune in the desert

An Egyptian man gave up his archeology job to gather scorpions and snakes and extract their venom for medicinal purposes.

al-monitor A yellow scorpion glows under UV light on Aug. 5, 2013, near Sde Boker in the Negev Desert, Israel. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.
Rasha Mahmoud

Rasha Mahmoud

@R_ma7moud200

Topics covered

entrepreneur, medicine, cairo, hunting, business, egypt economy

Dec 21, 2020

“Almost everyone mocked me. No one seems to understand what I am doing,” Mohammad Boshta, 25, told Al-Monitor in his laboratory while carefully extracting venom from a scorpion.

“I gave up my job in the archeology field when I started hunting scorpions in the deserts and beaches of Egypt. I had faith in what I was doing. I found my passion.”

Boshta quit his archeologist job to explore selling snake and scorpion venom, which can be sold for thousands of dollars for therapeutic uses. He is now the owner of the Cairo Venom Company and keeps around 80,000 scorpions and a number of snakes in several farms across Egypt.

His journey began in 2015, when he read about the benefits of scorpion venom. He did extensive research and conducted endless experiments with hunters and specialists in the field, before starting to experiment by himself.

“I was in awe of scorpions," he recounted, "but fear did not keep me from extracting their venom. My first solo venom extraction experiment was with 100 scorpions I got from a hunter. This number may seem small for veteran scorpion hunters, but it was enough to make me feel confident and gain experience. From that moment, the adventure began and I started my own hunting trips in various Egyptian regions and governorates.”

From Aswan to Dabaa, Burj Al-Arab and Sinai, Boshta hunted various species of scorpions. “There are two hunting methods,” he explained. “The first is determining their locations using specific environmental parameters. The second is using a UV light.”

He noted that the scorpions are collected in farms far from population centers, and their venom is extracted to make antivenom. "A single gram of scorpion venom can produce between 20,000 and 50,000 antivenom doses," he said. “The venom is also used to manufacture a number of other medicines, including high blood pressure medications.”

Boshta owns seven farms, each housing more than 80,000 scorpions and 640 snakes.

“Some of our scorpions are highly venomous species, including black, dwarf, small, Leiurus, yellow and Omayed. Others have a medium toxicity, such as the yellow baltim scorpion found in the northern regions of Egypt, and the Scorpio maurus, which is the least toxic.”

Scorpions are kept in special plastic containers for a period of six months, and their venom is extracted every 20 days by applying an electrical current. Then, they are returned to their natural habitat to recover from the recurrent venom extraction. They could be caught again years later.

Scorpion venom is used in more than 24 medicinal products all over the world. “We export venom to various countries such as the United States, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and France."

The business is lucrative and though the price of scorpion venom varies among the species, he said, "the average price of a gram of venom is more than $10,000 … while the price of a gram of snake venom ranges from $500 to $12,000.” 

Hunting and extraction can be dangerous, he observed, saying he's been stung by by scorpions over 300 times. “But because of my knowledge of venom types, I can determine the required treatment.” Boshta said that his family supports him  he gets a lot of criticism and mockery from the community for his odd business.

The scorpions’ life cycles range from seven to 12 years, and females produce 30 to 60 baby scorpions during the months of June and July, after the mating season in April. Sometimes the mating process takes place in the laboratory. 

Up to 300 workers hunt scorpions seasonally for the company in multiple governorates, Boshta said. Scorpion hunters go out on hunting trips for a weekly wage of up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds (around $318). They are trained on how to collect their valuable catch, such as which types can be gathered in one basket. Some species, most notably the black scorpion, eat others, but some species coexist peacefully together.

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