The Nairobi Snakes ?- Article by Gareth Jones
? NAIROBI PARK SNAKES! – BY GARETH JONES
It was getting late after a hot day, I watched the sun was setting fast. I drove along just looking straight ahead, as it was difficult to see as the sun was in my eyes. Suddenly a large fat object was visible in the middle of the road, I stopped to look at it. Wow, it was a fairly large puff adder, a snake found in the park, but not often seen on the road.
Puff adders (Bitis arietans) are venomous snakes, found in rocky grasslands over vast areas of Africa. A large specimen can measure up to 190 cm (75 in). This species is responsible for more fatalities than any other African snake. The venom has cytotoxic effects, poisoning the blood cells. They normally appear to be sluggish but that is deceptive, as their strike is very fast and aggressive. In fact their strike speed has actually be measured at less than 0.25 of a second. Puff Adders are mostly nocturnal and are one of the snakes in Africa that prey on vermin such as rodents. They therefore perform an important and vital role in balancing the ecosystem.
If ever you are walking in long grass and you hear a loud hiss, then stand very still and try to see where the snake is, if it is more than one metre away then slowly retreat and walk away, if closer don’t move and call for help.
It is very unusual for a visitor to have an incident with a puff adder in the Nairobi park, as KWS, keeps the grass in picnic areas very short and snakes do not normally attack humans unless provoked. However it is always good to take care!
It was coming to the end of another hot day as I drove down a dusty track near No5 junction, suddenly a black necked spitting cobra appeared on the road. The black-necked spitting cobra (Naja nigricollis) is a species of spitting cobra found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. They are moderately sized snakes that can grow to a length of 1.2 to 2.2 m (3.9 to 7.2 ft) in length, and when threatened can spit their venom quite accurately over a distance of a few metres, often aiming for the eyes of the animal or person threatening it. The cobra immediately sensed the vehicle, and quickly slithered away into the long grass. While driving away I reflected on the very important vital role that snakes perform in maintaining a balance in the ecosystem. A few years ago we also witnessed a rare sighting as about 20 tiny baby black necked spitting cobras emerged from an old termite mound near the Hyena dam. It was fascinating to watch them as they slithered out into the big wide world for the first time, many with the birth membrane still over their eyes. However it should be noted that baby snakes are just as venomous as adult snakes except that they have a smaller amount of venom.
Sadly many people are terrified of snakes and when discussing them, many people have a “better dead than alive” attitude about snakes. Yet when snakes are entirely removed from an area, then rodent populations tend to explode. It is a well known fact that rodents (such as rats and mice) are carriers of many diseases that have a very serious impact on human populations. So in fact even though snakes are feared, it is good to know that by minimizing rodent populations, snakes are actually protecting people from many diseases that could be fatal.
Another lesser known fact is that in reality snakes are more fearful of humans, than humans are of snakes, and snakes will always try to avoid confrontation if possible, by moving away, or hissing first. Not all snakes are venomous and it would be useful if schools educated children and adults about the various species.
On another occasion I drove down the stretch of tar road that ends at No 3 junction, as I turned the corner and crossed the bridge over the stream, a large long colourful thick round shape was lying across the entire road. Immediately I realized it was an African Rock Python (Python Sebae) now about 50 metres ahead and moving across the road. I turned the vehicle at an angle in order to take some photos, I quickly grabbed my trusted Canon camera and proceeded to take some photos as the python moved away into the long grass and retreated into the shelter of the riverine shrub and large trees. Wow!! What a rare sighting, especially such a large specimen (I estimated that the python was well over 4 metres long).
All Pythons ( 21 known species on earth ) are non venomous however they can inflict a nasty bite and use their serrated fangs to grip their prey in order to begin the process of constricting as they crush the life out of their victims. In Africa there are 2 sub-species, the larger Python Sebae found in Central and West Africa and the smaller Southern African rock python, (Python natalensis) that some people consider to be a separate species. Due to pythons being threatened in some countries, including Kenya they are a protected species. If left alone in the wild, African Rock Pythons generally catch their natural prey (like antelope, monkeys, warthog, large rodents), unfortunately they are also collected for the pet trade, although they’re not recommended as pets due to their large size and unpredictable aggressive temperament. Attacks on humans are extremely rare, however a tragic incident did take place more than 5 years ago in Canada, when a large African Rock Python escaped from a pet shop cage and killed two young boys in an upstairs apartment as they slept.
Snakes are definitely not meant to be kept as pets, and if seen in the wild are best treated with caution and respect. Even though many types of snakes are dangerous they still play a vital role in balancing natural ecosystems. So next time you see a snake, try to think about them in a positive way, and realise that they are actually helping humans, so they are “better ALIVE than dead“.
The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00.