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Living with the enemy

BUSINESS
By | February 27th 2010

By Alex Kiprotich

Along the footpaths crisscrossing the semi-arid Loboi village in Marigat, visitors marvel at residents walking with black polythene bags covering their feet.

With the hot weather, one assumes the cover is meant to cushion the feet against the hot soil.

The residents also walk with a stick in one hand — a practice that would easily be mistaken for cultural or religious requirement.

Snakes make life a living hell for residents of Loboi village in Marigat.

Targok Kibyegon, 100, sustained two snakebites. Photo: Boniface Thuku/Standard

However, the residents do that to guard against stepping on snakes that have made walking early morning and in the evening a nightmare. The stick comes in handy when the reptiles strike.

If one is lucky to spot a snake and is not bitten, he or she uses the stick to kill and dispose of the reptile. But if bitten, the snake is carried to the hospital to help the doctor prescribe medicine faster.

The reptiles have inflicted scars to nearly all villagers and especially the young. The snakes attack residents in their homes at night while in search of water.

They crawl into the houses through openings and cracks in the mud-walled huts. Many have found snakes besides their beds on waking up in the morning.

"Each home has a story to tell. Nobody is safe. We live with the uncertainty, not knowing what would happen next to us while on the pathways or even when asleep," says Elizabeth Kochei who has been bitten twice in four months.

Kochei was bitten on the left leg while on her way to the river and in the second incident she was bitten on the ankle.

"I was going to the river early in the morning. Due to poor visibility, I could not spot the snake before it struck," she says.

The problem is compounded by lack of hospitals —the nearest medical facility is Marigat Health Centre, about 22km away.

And one is not guaranteed to find help at the health centre. Sometimes they are referred to Kabarnet District Hospital, 70km away, or Eldama Ravine, about 80km away.

"It is God who watches over us. It is hard to get transport to the nearest facility. We have to carry the victim(s) to the main road to board matatus plying Nakuru-Marigat-Kabarnet route," she says.

Literature on him

Area assistant chief Joseph Cherono says the most common snakes are the black mamba and cobra. Up to 15 people get bitten every month, he says, adding that, so far, four people have died as a result.

"It is serious and we have talked to Kenya Wildlife Services officers but they have not responded," he says.

The administrator says residents have been advised to keep water outside their houses for the reptiles but that has not been possible because of scarcity.

"Water is scarce here. The little we get from the stream is not enough to share with the reptiles," he says.

James Kalilaya lost his son, eight, to snakebite while Tarkok Kutulno, 40, passed away while being rushed to Kabarnet Hospital after the deadly black mamba bit her.

Johana Karato says her daughter Marion Kimunchos, four, was bitten last month as she slept. He says the warm climate has made the region a breeding ground for deadly reptiles.

"They are everywhere. Snakes love warm and dry areas where conditions for survival and breeding are favourable," he says.

Black mambas are common in open woodlands, rocky outcrops and open savannas in Africa. They are known to strike fast.

Karato says at night the snakes bite only when the victim unconsciously shoves off the reptile. "It (shoving off) makes the snake react in self defence," he says.

Residents have resorted to using herbs to slow down the spread of poison in the body, especially if the incident occurs at night.

But Rael Chebii, who has been a victim, says even after proper medication, most victims have complications. She says the colour of the skin and the tongue changes from time to time.

"I was bitten last year December and up to now sometimes my tongue changes colour and my body swells," she says.

And the cost of treatment is prohibitive. Karato spent Sh49,000 on her daughter’s treatment. She was operated on twice after a snake bit her thrice on the left hand and legs.

Mary Ng’etich spent Sh27,000 on treatment while Tarkok Kipteroi paid Sh29,000.

A KWS officer manning the Lake Bogoria Game Reserve says given the warm conditions, the snakes multiply fast. He says the venom of certain snakes can kill in between three and eight hours.

KWS pays Sh50,000 for injuries by wildlife while families of those who die as a result of wildlife-human conflict receive Sh200,000.

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