Park campaign bears fruit in region rattled by snakebites

Baringo Snake Park Curator Willy Limo holding Sand Boa a non-venomous Snake at the Park in Lake Baringo on October 10, 2019. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]
Perched on the shores of Lake Baringo, a little-known snake park is steadily gaining popularity.

Besides promoting tourism, the Lake Baringo Snake Park has sought to aggressively battle the burden of snakebites in a county that records between 300 and 500 cases a month.

To do so, it has set up an educational centre to push an awareness campaign among residents.

Informed decisions

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It is an initiative residents like Joseph Ekai say has helped them make informed decisions when they encounter the reptiles.

“Everyone now knows the type of snakes within the area, even just by describing the colours and behaviour. We no longer kill snakes on our own; we call the experts to come and capture them,” Mr Ekai said.

Jane Jelimo said residents are now better-informed on preventive measures to keep the snakes from getting into houses at night.

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“Just like most families in any rural setup, I used to keep chicks in the house where it was warmer but through this initiative, I learned that this is one way of inviting snakes into the house. I have also learned that there are some snakes that are harmless, and all we do is call these experts,” she said.

Ms Jelimo said she now knows different behaviours of snakes, those that can attack during the day and the nocturnal ones, making it easier to identify them in cases of snakebites.

“Before, we knew all snakes were venomous. In some instances, a snake had to be hunted and killed so it could be ferried to the hospital together with the victim for easier identification. But now when one is spotted, we can easily tell the species,” she said.

Boost understanding

Lake Baringo warden Joshua Komen said the snake park has become more than a tourist attraction.

“We have taken the park as part of the package to be offered within the conservation area so as to boost understanding on snakes and ease the burden,” he said. Willy Limo, a curator at the facility, said the drive to push awareness among residents is propelled by recently amended Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) laws, under which snakebite cases will no longer be compensated, despite their burden on the region.

“Our mandate here is to up the awareness campaign to bring down the high number of snakebite cases within this region. The centre also doubles as an educational centre and a tourist site, but its major role is awareness,” Mr Limo  said.

He said, on average, more than 10 people are bitten by snakes daily in Baringo County. Out of those, three will die and the rest will sustain permanent disabilities. At least 15 species of venomous and non-venomous snakes  are showcased in the facility, which has been running since 2003. On a good day, it attends up to 2,000 visitors, and charges Sh200 per head.

Visitors are taught to identify different kind of snakes, their behaviour and how to avoid bites. Information is also provided on the kind of snakes in some hot spots, and precautionary measures to take.

Snake handlers

In some cases, Limo said, the curators and snake handlers in the facility visit hot spots in Kerio Valley, Mogotio, Tiaty, and Baringo North, South and Central to sensitise residents.

He said most people tend to get bit while trying to kill snakes.

In terms of distribution, snakes such as puff adders, black mambas and cobras, are prevalent in drier parts of the country and are major causes of injuries and deaths.

Puff adders are the main cause of injuries and deaths, as they are nocturnal and well camouflaged. Cobras are considered the third-most dangerous snake species in Kenya.

The venom of the black mamba, which is considered world’s largest venomous snake and fourth-most venomous, often takes hours to be fatal. Death can, however, be prevented by the administration of an anti-venom.

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Lake BaringoLake Baringo Snake ParkSnake bites