Ever since watching NTV’S wild talk session, with Bio-ken snake farm on reptile conservation and Saving Snakes in Kenya, I immediately developed an interest in snakes. Since then I’ve always wanted to visit the farm. So, 13 years later I made a move and contacted them just to find out if they were still open. After exchanging a few messages on Instagram I finally set a date and started planning. The whole experience was exciting and educational and by the end of the day, I was shocked at how ignorant I have been about snakes.
Snakes have been given a bad reputation in most African cultures and are still perceived as cold, creepy, scary, evil, and sometimes even associated with witchcraft. These beliefs and myths have made most people act harshly during encounters with snakes, thus creating an unsafe situation for themselves and the snakes.
It’s human nature to often fear what we do not understand and to most people snakes are still a riddle that will never get solved. Over time, snakes have mastered the art of camouflage, nocturnality, subterranean lifestyle, and mimicry so even as they go about their business they are not quick to spot, thus creating a void that has filled our minds with fear from the many unpleasant stories we hear about snakes.
I decided that I’m going to learn with the experts and let’s just say my quest for enlightenment finally landed me at The Bio Ken Snake Farm. The visit has completely changed my perception of snakes and I hope it will change yours too by the time you get to the end of this article.
I know this is not a subject many would be looking forward to discussing but we need to agree and understand that snakes are a valuable part of the food web and that having snakes is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
Bio Ken Snake Farm is a hepatology research center that was founded in 1980 by James Ashe and his wife, and is situated in Watamu on the South Coast of Kenya. The farm is home to over 100 species of snakes (making it the largest snake research center in east Africa) lizards, tortoise, and other reptiles. There is a well-maintained display of vivariums arranged neatly across each other to ensure the safety of the visitors and the animals. The farm is also a breeding center and learning center where visitors can fully indulge in the world of snakes and nature. There are several knowledgeable guides or ‘Fundi Wa Nyoka’ who patiently teach visitors about the various species and the need to protect the snakes and their habitat.
The farm holds a venom extraction session at 11:00 AM every day: a process that is harmless to the snake and involves inserting the snake’s fangs into a cup then gently massaging the glands on top of the snake’s head. The snakes release a small amount of the venom that is then desiccated and sent to South Africa for the production of anti-venom. The farm then purchases the anti-venom and donates it to people who cannot afford it through the James Ashe Antivenom Trust (JAAT)
Just like many other wild animals, the snake population has greatly declined due to the unfortunate persecution, habitat destruction, disease, over-harvesting, and even climate change, Some snake species have become impossible to spot in the wild and might soon be gone if things don’t change. In a bid to help with the conservation of the snakes the farm regularly holds tours and seminars all around the country which help to create more awareness about snakes. They also offer free snake rescue service to homeowners or businesses around the region, the rescued snakes are then released to the wild or brought back to the farm for research and education purposes. The staff at the farm passionately explained all about the snakes and just like me a visit there will leave you wanting to do something to save the declining population.
So what could we do to help with the conservation and protection of the snakes?
• Motivate other people to read up on snake conservation issues, respect wildlife, and be serious about the protection of wildlife species and their habitat.
• Support organizations helping in the conservation of snakes.
• Visit the farm or other snake conservation centers to learn more about the snake
• Call, the snake rescue team, or KWS in case you see a snake.
• Restore & Protect Snake Habitat
• Avoid Purchasing products made from snakes.
What I learned:-
• Not all snakes are venomous. There is only a small percentage of venomous snakes that can kill you, but since most of us cannot tell which snakes are venomous, you should always visit a hospital and call a specialist to remove the snake should you see one.
• Snakes are not cold and slimy!!
Snakeskin is dry, and depending on the surrounding temperature, can be quite warm and soft. Snakeskin is very smooth and soft, similar to supple leather
• Snakes are not faster than humans
The fastest snake in the world is the black mamba and can travel at around 12km/hr. Humans can easily run faster than this. Snakes soon tire, as moving rapidly uses their stored energy. The likelihood that a snake will give a persistent chase is small.
• Some snakes give birth, some species of snakes produce their young in eggs, while others give birth to live young.
• Don’t attempt to kill a snake!
Attempting to kill a snake puts you in more danger, just like any other animal the snake will attack when it feels threatened. When you encounter one, the best thing to do is to take three steps back and walk away, and call a specialist or KWS to get it removed.
• Some snakes prey on other snakes only.
Some are nonvenomous and will hunt and kill other snakes through constriction and then swallow them whole.
Here a few tips to preventing snake bites:-
• Wear boots and long pants when farming or hiking in areas with tall vegetation.
• Watch where you’re placing your feet, be extra aware on rocky, sunny areas, pockets of leaves, and logs.
• Do not touch or disturb a snake, even if it appears dead.
• Watch out when sitting down on a rock or a tree stump.
• Always look for concealed snakes before picking up rocks, sticks, or firewood.
• Never hike alone in remote areas.
• Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
• Teach children to respect snakes and to leave them alone.
• Do Not wait for symptoms to appear to visit a hospital.
• Do Not compress the bitten limb with a cord or tight bandage.
• Do Not attempt to extract or neutralize the venom.
• Do Not wash the area of the bite or try to suck out the venom as it is extremely important to retain traces of venom for use with venom identification kits.
• Do Not incise or cut the bite. Stay calm and seek medical help immediately
Phone: 0729 403599
Emergency Snakebite Phone Number:
+254 718 290 324
Check out our full interview with Dickson one of the guides here and here for a full-day tour.