KENYA SNAKES SAFARI
|Kenya has 126 species of Snakes- yet most visitors to the country leave without seeing one of these shy and elusive reptiles. The question is- What if you would actually like to see one? An all new Specialized Safari outfit is offering a Kenya Snakes Safari- a genuine adventure that combines wild walks, river rafting, visits to witch doctors’ caves and tracking down Kenya’s top 5 snake species.|
The trip is called the Big 5 Snake Safari- in reference to the popular term for the 5 most popular African Big Game species- Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant.
In this case- this Safari goes in search of the most impressive species of African snake- the Python, Boomslang, Puff Adder, Cobra and the Mamba. Some people may react with absolute horror at the very thought of actually devoting a safari to tracking down wild snakes, some of them deadly- but please read on… This trip is run by some of Kenya’s top reptile experts and professional snake catchers. The aim of the entire venture is to promote education and awareness of snakes, and to demonstrate through firsthand experience that these creatures play an important and fascinating role in African eco-systems, and rarely live up to their maligned and mythologized reputations as aggressive killers.
Anyone joining the safari will discover that snakes are extremely shy of humans, and will go to great lengths to avoid people. This makes finding the “Big 5” species in a single safari a genuine challenge.
In fact, it’s this challenge that makes this safari what it is: an adventure- it involves a lot of travel through a range of habitats and landscapes, tracking down snakes through forests, dry river beds, rocky cliffs and mangroves. The safari takes in plenty of other wildlife along the way as well, as well as village visits, wild camping, rafting and time off on one of the world’s best beaches.
If you are looking for a wildlife safari that doesn’t involve taking photos from the safety of a vehicle, and would like to get out and explore and interact with wild animals up close and personal, and have a genuine adventure, then this is the trip for you.
The genesis of Kenya Snake Safaris lies in the quiet coastal town of Watamu, about 2 hours North of Mombasa. Sheltered from the beach near the Arabuko Sokoke Forest is the home of James Ashe- one of the world’s leading experts on East African Snakes. James, 78, has devoted many years to the scientific study of reptiles, and runs Bio-Ken, a snake farm dedicated to the production of snake venom for medicinal purposes, and also to active education and conservation.
James passion for snakes runs deep in his veins, along with the remnants of venom from his impressive collection of bites accumulated during decades of snake handling and milking. But he is dedicated to his cause, and works hard to ensure that snakes in the area are protected- he offers a venomous snake removal service to local villages, and also provided anti-venom treatment free of charge to local snakebite cases.
It wouldn’t be easy to find someone who shares this love of snakes- but James was lucky enough to achieve just that when he met Royjan Taylor, a young Kenyan who has been handling snakes since he was a child. Royjan, 28, shares this passion, and has joined James to assist with the farm and also raise money by giving educational snake shows at coast hotels.
Royjan spent much of his youth looking for Snakes with his best friend Anthony Childs. It was their many experiences and adventures together that led to them both developing one of Kenya’s more unique safari options- Snake Safaris.
So what does a snake safari entail? First and foremost this is not a purely reptilian safari designed only for the obsessive herpetologist or snake fan. The safari passes through some spectacular landscapes, and you can be sure you’ll encounter plenty of big game- with legs- along the way. Royjan and Anthony are both Professional KPSGA safari guides with a wealth of local knowledge about local geography, wildlife and culture.
The safari is mostly spent camping under canvas, but always with available showers and latrines, and excellent meals prepared by a camp cook.
A typical safari begins in Nairobi and winds its way to the coast over 12 days. The search for the Big Five Snakes takes clients through the Selenkay/Le’ngesem Maasai conservancy- a beautiful region known for its large elephant herds and views of Mt Kilimanjaro, into the Rift Valley through Lake Naivasha and Kigio- home to brilliant birdlife, on to the world famous Maasai Mara game reserve- where you may well see the original Big Five Mammals, then to the arid North East, and on to the Coast. Along the way, visits are made to spots specifically known as snake country.
For a full itinerary email the organizers .
Searching for snakes means plenty of time on foot. When snakes are spotted they are captured and restrained safely using grab sticks, and shown to the guests. Their biology, habits and habitats are explained and the guests have a chance to touch the snakes, and ask questions. All snakes are released back into the wild.
While the focus of the trip is the “Big Five” any other interesting species of snake or lizard found along the way. These may include harmless grass, sand or house snakes, and small lizards such as geckoes or colourful agamas.
These harmless snakes are usually taken back to camp, where guest are given the chance to handle them before release.
For many of the guests, this is their first chance to physically touch or hold a snake- nand most are suprised to find that they are neither slimy nor particularly cold, and not wildly aggressive.
But the real aim is to track down the real trophies- Five of the continent’s most impressive snake species.
THE BIG FIVE SNAKES
The first of the big five is the COBRA. Kenya has 4 species, the Black Necked Spitting Cobra, the Red Spitting Cobra, Egyptian and Forest Cobra. Cobras are often found under thick undergrowth, rocks or in piles of dead vegetation- in a variety of habitats. Catching Cobras is not easy- the Egyptian cobra is extremely aggressive when cornered, while Spitting cobras respond to a direct threat by spitting venom- with remarkable accuracy, into the eyes.
Snake Safari staff use grab sticks and wear protective goggles while catching cobras- but it is still a tense procedure. A large aggressive cobra is a magnificent sight to behold. Their spread hoods and loud threatening hiss are a very effective deterrent to coming any closer.
While capturing a spitter, Royjan and Anthony will have a pair of thumbtacks stuck into the soles of their shoes. If their foot is held upright, the snake will mistake them for an animals eyes and spit and strike at the shoe rather than their head and hands.
Next up is the PYTHON, a non-venomous constricting snake. The African Rock Python is often caught sunning itself on rocks or in vegetation. They feed mostly on rabbits, spring hares and in some cases small antelopes. These snakes can grow to be very large and Snake Safaris often encounter 9 foot and longer specimens.
At Kigio, the Snake Safari takes to the water in small inflatable rafts along the Malewa River. Guests are rowed along calm stretches of the river, while the catching team float alongside in inner tubes, searching the reeds for Pythons, which often live along river banks. At times diversions have to be made to make way for hippos.
Pythons are often caught in the water, and while the snakes are harmless, a large Python can make a formidable wrestling opponent. Catching pythons on land is a much easier proposition, and they are often found sunning themselves outside their lairs.
The third member of the big five is the PUFF ADDER, undoubtedly one of the most dangerous snakes in Kenya. The problem with these large sluggish vipers is their speed. Lying on warm patches of earth, they are slow to move out of the path of an approaching human, but fast to strike- with a pair of massive fangs that are hinged into the mouth like retractable airplane wheels.
While these venomous snakes are dangerous, and pack a heavy dose of venom, they do play an important role in their eco-systems, and Snake Safaris will move these snakes away from inhabited areas and release them into thick isolated bush. They also teach their guests and local people how to avoid encountering dangerous snakes and what to do in the event of a bite.
The next snake is the BOOMSLANG, or other back fanged snakes- such as the TWIG SNAKE. These snakes are venomous but present less of a threat due to their fangs being located in the rear of their mouths.
The Boomslang is a tree snake, the males a bright iridescent green and the female a dull brown. Twig Snakes are small, narrow creatures who take their name from their highly effective cammoflage, which makes them virtually indistinguishable from twigs and sticks.
On the coast, the search for these snakes usually takes guests into patches of forest and dense undergrowth. Twig Snakes are very fond of bats, so caves are often excellent hunting grounds.
Snake Safaris visit Jimba Cave, one of the coasts best kept secrets. Hidden within the forest, Jimba is a sacred site for the Giriama people, and is still in use by witchdoctors as a place of sacrifice and ritual. Local people visit the cave at night to consult witchdoctors on village problems, always leaving an offering behind.
With its narrow twisting passages leading to massive vaulted ceilings, rock bridges and deep rock fissures filled with bats and swarms of wild bees, Jimba is a place of strange and eerie beauty. At the heart of the cave is a single massive mahogany tree rising from the floor, its ghostly white trunk glowing in the dark. The tree is believed to have sprouted hundreds of years ago when the cave was used as shelter by slave caravans, after a slave dropped a seed from the central African forests.
After searching the cave for Twig Snakes and chameleons, guests always pay respect to Giriama tradition by leaving a small offering for the witchdoctors.
The last of the Big Five is the infamous MAMBA. Black and Green Mambas have become the stuff of legends, known worldwide as terrifying and deadly snakes. Snake Safaris effectively separate the myths from the facts- and introduce their guests to the real Mamba.
While it is true that the Mamba carries extremely toxic venom- they are elusive snakes that spend most of their lives hidden in trees in thick bushland, hunting birds. Encountering a Mamba is extremely unusual and rare- and an attack even less likely. They will make every possible attempt to avoid such an encounter.
Catching a Mamba, however, is a different proposition altogether. The best Mamba country is in coastal forests and mangroves, and around the dry river beds of Kenya’s arid North East.
Royjan and Francis, a long term employee of the Bio Ken snake farm are extremely experienced Mamba catchers. The first required skill is being able to spot one in the dense undergrowth- and the capture is a difficult and risky process, often having to be done while climbing into the unsteady branches of a tree. The snake then has to be lowered to the ground and restrained.
This is no easy feat- particularly with the highly aggressive black Mamba. These are extremely long (often exceeding 10 feet) and agile tree snakes that can easily double their bodies back on themselves and strike high and fast.
Black Mambas are truly awe inspiring animals, powerful and tense, and not black- but a gun-metal olive. When threatened they raise their bodies high into the air and present a wide open mouth- and reveal just how they got their name- the inside of their mouth is jet black.It has now been proven that these much maligned snakes may have an even greater value to humankind. Research has discovered that their venom could be a vital ingredient in drugs used to regenerate damaged nerves in amputated limbs that have been reattached through micro-surgery.
The trip ends with a stay on the beach at Watamu, and a visit to Bio-Ken for milking demonstrations and a tour of the laboratory and East Africa’s largest collection of Snakes.
Kenya Snake Safaris is the only operation of its kind in Kenya, and are fully and professionally trained with a wealth of experience, equipment and full anti-venom back up. It should be noted that under no circumstances should any untrained person attempt to catch or handle any snake in Kenya.
Most visitors to Kenya want to see the world famous wildlife, living free in its natural habitat. But not many are interested in seeing snakes, or actually make every attempt to see them. Being blinded by fear prevents some people from seeing these rare, beautiful creatures that are no more dangerous than the lions or elephants that they come to see.
For the guests on a Snake safari, this is a real learning experience as well as an adventure. Even guests who previously had a snake phobia have found themselves relaxed and confident enough to hold and release the non-venomous snakes caught along the way.
One client had previously believed the old adage that “the only good snake is a dead snake” and used to suffer from nightmares about them. After his Snake Safari- he reported that he still dreamed about snakes- but that they were pleasant dreams, free from fear.
For more information, please email Kenya Snakes Safaris.