Category Archives: 7. Viperidae – VIPERS and ADDERS

THE BIGGEST SPITTING COBRA

This new Large Brown Spitting Cobra Naja ashei has really brought us a lot of attention. I must share with you the three most common questions that we are getting.

1. Really! how long is the largest specimen of this species on record?

2. Who was James Ashe and why did you name the snake after him?

3. What will you (Royjan Taylor) and Bio-Ken do with this money if we give it to you?

This is what I have told everyone.

1. The largest specimen on record of this Spitting Cobra Naja ashei is 9 feet and 2 inches ( works out at almost 2.8 meters). The specimen was caught in 1960 by James Ashe and C.J.P.Ionides,a great friend and mentor of Jim’s. It had killed and swallowed a house cat and got injured in the process but survived. They kept it for three weeks but it unfortunately escaped before they could get it back to the Nairobi Snake Park. Where did they catch it? I do not know as James said he could not remember exactly but it was somewhere along the Kenyan Coast. He said “I think it was somewhere in Kilifi” which is about 45km from where we are in Watamu, Kenya.

Picture from Jim’s stuff given to Royjan (scanned copy)

PHOTO - Naja nigricollis TYPE B - C.J.P. Ionedes & J.O.P. Ashe - 1960 001.jpg

2. James Ashe made his name in East African herpetology in the 1960’s while he was Curator of Reptiles at the National Museum of Kenya (then The Croydon Museum) he helped start the Nairobi Snake park and during his time built it up to have a very good collection indeed. He discovered the Mt. Kenya Bush Viper Atheris desaixi, and named it after the collector who found the first specimen, a friend of his called Frank Desaix. James left Kenya, and ran Safari Parks in the USA, later moving on to Oxford University where he worked with insects. His passion still being snakes he came back to Kenya and with his wife Sanda founded Biological Kenya in 1980. This was later shortened to Bio-Ken and started as a collecting centre for reptiles. In 2000 after working with James on and off for many years he offered me the position of Director at Bio-Ken. At that time the Snake Farm was struggling with funds and in his words “I have one foot on a banana skin and the other in the grave. It is just a matter of time for me but what this place and the snakes of East Africa need is a chap with a fire in his belly and a heart in his snakes to make it work. I have chosen you to take on my life long work and I hope you will. I can’t pay you much but if you make it work it is yours”.

I had no choice! This was exactly what I had always dreamed of and Jim had picked me. I talked it over with my wife Clare and we agreed lets just do it. Time passed and I built Bio-Ken up to house one of the largest collections of African snakes in one place anywhere in the world. We at present house 260 snakes represented by 56 different species, all East African. I promised James on his death bed that during my time I would name an East African snake with significance after him. The Large Brown Spitting Cobra “takes the biscuit” as he would say. Naja ashei it is and only last Friday I said to my wife after a long day at work “I really wish I could send Jimmy an email about all this!”. She replied “I think he has already got it!”. I thought to my self what a nice thought to go to sleep on remembering him saying “I’m sure this brown thing is different!”

Picture from Jim’s stuff given to Royjan (scanned copy)

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3. I think this question is obvious. Bio-Ken Snake Farm has been self funded for the entire 27 years it has been in existence. We make our own money through gate entry, Snake shows, filming, lectures, safari guide training and venom production. This brings in about Ksh125,000/=(US$ 2,000). We spend about Ksh 210,000/=(US$3,000) a month on keeping the place going. We all moonlight doing whatever we can to earn extra money to support our families and subsidies the snake farm.We rescue about 450 snakes a year and help treat about 50 snakebite patients a year. I think it is about time we get some funding for what we do. It does not matter how small the amount may be. Would you not agree.

Old picture of Royjan saving a large python in Kilifi that would have been shot. Snake now lives in the wild near Tsavo East National Park, Kenya – eating antelope and not retrievers. (scanned from Jim’s stuff)

ROYJAN AND WYCLIFFE CATCHING HUGE PYTHON IN KILIFI 002.jpg

Picture by Prof. Ralf Sauter of snakebite patient

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OFF TO TSAVO TOMORROW

Just a short one today. I am taking eight clients to Tsavo tomorrow and we will be staying at Kulalu camp for two nights. Kulalu is on the bank of the Galana river to the south of Tsavo East national park. The last time I was there with clients, we found several snakes. One of them was a nice large female Puff Adder Bitis arietans in good condition. We caught her to show the guests the enormous fangs that they have, took some photos and then released her back into the wild were we found her. This is such a nice feeling to do without having to relocate the animal as is usually the case with our work.

I will miss my family as usual, Eric is six and a half now and he has got used to it, but Joey is only four and she really does get upset whenever she knows that I am going away. Clare my wife is great and always finds a way to cheer her up until I get back. Usually evidence of nice ice creams and other nice things consumed by them can be seen around when I get back. Hopefully we will find something interesting so that I can give them a good story with a picture or two to go with when I get back.

Bellow is a short unedited video clip of the puff adder from our last trip

Video clip by Bonnie Sare (Snake safari – September 2007)

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THE BABY GABOON PROJECT

This Morning Bonface, the Farm Foreman was feeding our small Gaboon Vipers Bitis gabonica. So I thought to myself why don’t I take some pictures and explain to you how this particular side of our work runs.

Kakamega Forest in Western Kenya is the last habitat remaining in this country that still has a few wild Gaboon Vipers. The area has been very well protected by the Forestry Department and Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) since the Colonial period in Kenya. Yet the Gaboon Vipers have suffered from indiscriminate killing either through ignorance or through the illegal trade in their skins. More recently the Illegal export of wild specimens to the black market pet trade in Europe and the USA has further deleted their populations.

Last year in June 2006, Anton and I led a KWS approved, joint Bio-Ken / National Museums Of Kenya’s Department Of Herpetology (NMK) expedition to Kakamega Forest to see how things were on the ground. We found the numbers had reduced since our last visit there more than 15 years previously. We did however collect 5 adult specimens which we returned with, for educational purposes. Two males and three females. On the 17th of January 2007 one of these females produced 23 live young. We don’t need any more so we have been feeding these and the previous batch from our old female up to a size that can be released. Too small and the chance of surviving from predators is quite low. In the wild like the sea turtles, less than 5% reach an age that is old enough to breed, so we try to give them the best chance we can before we release them.

An example of one of our many projects already underway at Bio-Ken is the breeding and relocating of these Gaboon Vipers to Kakamega forest in Western Kenya some 1,150 kilometres from where we are based. Our first batch of about 25 snakes is now about three and a half years old. The second group of 20 are now eleven months old. They all need to be fed weekly and together just these will use about 85 day old chicks a week and about 20 rats and 25 mice a month. We are at present keeping them in large plastic tubs which is getting too small for the older ones. What we really need is to get some funds together and build them some bigger cages before we can organise them for release. We have a film job for BBC next month so hopefully we can use a bit of that money to start with a few cages.

There is still alot to get around before we can release them. There is the cost of building their cages and keeping them maintained. There is the cost of the handlers who clean and feed them as well as the cost of cleaning and feeding the breeding rats, mice and chicks needed to feed them. At the end of all this we need to get an expedition to take them to where their home range is which is about a three day journey one way. One can very quickly get the idea that we have done very well considering we have been doing this, so far, from our own pocket. Although we do this from the heart and the love of these snakes and reptiles it is often frustrating that we can’t do more, due to finances. The Gaboon Vipers are just one species that we are working on. We are working on several others at the moment and would love to get our teeth into many more projects that need to be started such as more work on Kenya’s three Endemic Vipers of which two are really struggling in the wild at the moment.

Below are three pics from today and one from our expedition last year.

Photo by Royjan Taylor

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Photo By Royjan Taylor

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Photo By Royjan Taylor

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Photo by Anton Childs

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