Snakes are not the most popular creatures in Kenya, or indeed the rest of Africa. The mere mention of the word Snake is enough to strike terror in the heart of those who are afraid of them, and that will probably include a large portion of the Kenyan population, who generally hate and fear these reptiles in about equal measure. To be honest, this attitude towards snakes is with good reason, particularly if you happen to live in rural areas where there are indeed many species of snakes to be wary of. While the majority of these snakes are harmless, the venomous species are amongst the deadliest in the world, which accounts for the fear and loathing! An unfortunate encounter with one of these creatures could be fatal, especially in remote areas without medical intervention.
So, for the sake of visitors, residents (and to add some drama to the story!) we will count down the list of deadly snakes in Kenya. The list is based on the potency of the venom, the aggression of the snake and the level of respect they command!
This green slithering beauty is indeed a sight to behold, if you ever get to see it! The Green Mamba is a shy and retiring arboreal snake which generally avoids the ground and stays up in the trees where it is perfectly camouflaged. It is also non-aggressive, preferring to slither away un-noticed rather than face a confrontation, which is why we have placed it at number five on our list. However, it is a very venomous snake and a bite can be fatal if not treated. The venom contains a neurotoxin which quickly affects the nervous system and the brain, and immediate treatment is needed if you are unlucky enough to be bitten. So, avoid climbing trees and make a lot of noise as you walk in the forest...
As the name suggests (Boom is the Afrikaans word for tree) this tree snake also enjoys being off the ground. The male Boomslang is a most attractive green, while the female is a dull brown, but both blend into their arboreal background really well. Like the Green Mamba, the Boomslang is also shy and non-aggressive and will not attack unless it is cornered or severely provoked. When it does bite, you could be in big trouble! The venom contains a haemotoxin that stops the blood clotting process, causing the victim to eventually suffer internal bleeding and death after 2 to 5 days. Contributing to the possibility of a fatality is the fact that symptoms sometimes only occur after 24 hours, by which time kidney damage could be well underway. Treatment with anti-venom should be as swift as possible.
The Cobra is infamous all over the world, and Kenya has been endowed with no less than 4 species of this lethal snake, making it inevitable that human and Cobra interactions are quite frequent, especially in the rural areas. The four species found in Kenya are the Black-necked Spitting Cobra, the Red Spitting Cobra, the Forest Cobra and the Egyptian Cobra. Did I mention that the largest species of Spitting Cobra was found in Kenya and measured a whopping 8.9ft long. While wildlife enthusiasts were excited by this find, the locals were not impressed and just wanted it removed as far as possible from their lives!
The incidences of human and cobra encounters have been on the increase due to the Egyptian Cobra’s love of domestic fowl and rats, which is really bad news for the villagers. The venom of the Cobra is neurotoxic and a bite is fatal if not treated. In addition, the spit can cause blindness if it hits the eyes and the bite is excruciatingly painful. So, although this is an impressive snake and watching it rear up and display its hood is quite a spectacle, a Cobra encounter is best enjoyed with a glass partition between you and the snake.
I know you are wondering why the Black Mamba, one of the world’s most notorious snakes has been downgraded to number 2. Being the longest and most poisonous snake in Africa, the fastest snake and most venomous land snake in the world and probably the most bad-tempered snake in the world have justly assured that the Black Mamba is one of the most respected and feared snakes in Africa.
The Black Mamba is actually quite shy and secretive, but when cornered or confronted it will react with incredible aggression, often striking repeatedly just to make sure that you get the point! The reason that this snake features so close to the top of the list is due to increased human encroachment into the wild, which means that human encounters with the Black Mamba are on the increase.
Once bitten, the effects of the neurotoxins in the venom can be seen in minutes and death can occur in a very short space of time unless the anti-venom is administered promptly, which means that most victims in remote rural areas will not survive a bite from this snake.
Coming in at a well-deserved number one is the Puff Adder, which is responsible for the highest rate of snake bite deaths in Kenya. These very ugly snakes tend to enjoy basking in the sun, and often choose to do so in the middle of well-worn footpaths. They are also very sluggish, and do not bother to get out of the way when they hear movement, but rather seem to have a specific willingness to attack the unwary users of the footpath, and strike with lightening speed, and then withdraw and prepare for a second strike.
An Adder’s venom contains a cytotoxin, which means that it destroys tissue, and necrosis sets in around the bite. If not treated, the bite is fatal and the area around the bite will continue to die and this may lead to amputation of the affected limb. In addition to the nasty effects, the actual bite is also excruciatingly painful. In this case there is truth in the saying the dynamite comes in small parcels!
I could not resist including this beast in the list! It is the largest snake in Africa and the third largest in the world, and very deserving of a mention. It is not at all venomous and it does not hunt humans, but an encounter with one will still be a very memorable experience. The Python kills its prey by strangulation or suffocation, and then swallows it whole. It is known to be a bad-tempered species, and will bite and constrict with great aggression if cornered or provoked. It usually eats small mammals and reptiles, but has been known to kill children and even, occasionally, adult human beings. It is a very attractive snake with beautiful markings and is much admired by snake enthusiasts, but be sure to keep your distance!