BABY TIGER SNAKES IN MERU

Last night a guest at Elsa’s Kopje in Meru spotted this little Black Tiger Snake Telescopus dhara on a handrail at the lodge. Anton was called to identify it and put it in a snake bag until the following morning so as to get a photograph in better light. The snake was photographed this morning and released safely back into the bush.

You will notice the the snake in first picture below is orange. This is the snake described above. The snake second picture is black in colour and is also a Black Tiger Snake, but is an adult specimen photographed at Bio-Ken earlier this year. They are one of the few snake species we have in East Africa, that the juveniles differ in colour to that of the adults, so much so, that one would very easily think they are different species. The Black Tiger Snake is also known as the Large Eyed Snake.

To compound this the Eastern Tiger Snake Telescopus semiannulatus, a related species, is black and orange in colour, hence the common name. These retain their colour through to adult hood although along the North coast of Kenya the adults have slightly faded black bands. I should point out that our Tiger Snakes should not be confused with the Australian Tiger Snakes which are very poisonous Elapids. Our Tiger Snakes although venomous, are so mildly so, that even a bite from one produces no medical consequences whatsoever. We therefore treat them as harmless. The third photo below is a juvenile Eastern Tiger Snake.

Photo by Anthony Childs


Photo by Mike Dobiey

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Photo by Anthony Childs

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NEW COBRA FOUND IN WATAMU

YES! Finally we are here.

About four years ago we contacted Dr. Wolfgang Wuster a lecturer at the University of Bangor in Wales about a Cobra we had suspected to be different. Dr. Wuster had just concluded a paper on a new species from Sudan the Nubian Spitting Cobra Naja nubia which was previously recorded as a colour phase of the Red Spitting Cobra Naja pallida which is found in Kenya. Being recommended highly as really the man to talk to about Cobras, Anton, Sanda and I decided to get the ball rolling.

According to the most concise reference book on East African Snakes ‘ A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa’, by Stephen Spawls, Kim Howell, Robert Drewes and James Ashe – 2002, our snake was recorded as a brown colour phase of the Black Necked Spitting Cobra Naja nigricollis. James Ashe who founded Bio-Ken in 1980 had for many years suspected that the large brown spitting cobras along the coast may be different, and after working with them for many years we agreed with him. The issue was how do we prove it.

We managed to prove the difference by sending blood and tissue samples to Dr. Wolfgang Wuster. He was so excited at what he found from what we sent him that he came out and spent some time at Bio-Ken taking more samples for DNA analysis as well as taking reference photos and descriptive notes. He selected a specimen that I had caught trying to break into our chicken house a in 2002 (our ref BK-10030) and after taking pictures it was euthanized so as to have a holotype that was preserved. The holotype is now at the National Museum in Nairobi under Reference number NMK S/3993. It has taken about three years to prepare the paper and get it published. It has now finally been published by Wolfgang Wuster and another great snake man in Africa Donald Broadley. Well done guys. The Paper can be viewed by clicking on the following link http://www.mapress.com/zootaxa/2007f/zt01532p068.pdf

James Ashe died in 2004 and in memory of him it was agreed that the snake should be named after him. It was thus named Ashe’s Spitting Cobra Naja Ashei which is a great honer for him. We however still call it by the common name that he used the Large Brown Spitting Cobra.

This is a very big Cobra indeed and is possibly the Largest in Spitting Cobra found any where in the World. We also know that it is responsible for very serious snake bite cases in our area. During the work we did with Wolfgang in 2004 for this snake I milked a specimen which gave a woping 6.2ml of liquid venom, weighing 7.1g. possibly one of the largest venom yields milked from any one snake at any one milking anywhere in the world. Some of our Larger specimens at Bio-Ken are nearly eight feet long. This is massive and so we would advise people to be most careful if one is seen in the wild. Do not approach it unless you really have the experience to do so.

Lastly I’d like to say a good clap of hands to all members of the team involved. We hope Jimmy, that you approve from wherever you are, and to the world we say, on behalf of all of us, may we introduce you Naja Ashei.

Photo by Wolfgang Wuster
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Photo by Wolfgang Wuster

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Photo by Danie Theron
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YELLOW BACKED BLIND SNAKE FOUND

Today we collected a very nice specimen of the rare Yellow Backed Blind Snake Rhinotyphlops unitaeniatus in Watamu. We have found them in the area before but not much is known about them. The last one we had we got to eat the small white termites and also it occasionally would eat ants eggs. We decided to keep this one to try and learn some more about them.

Photos by Royjan Taylor
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Katherin’s Sand Snake in Tsavo

This is actually a comment just in in from one of our Blog readers.

Couple of months ago, saw a vehicle in Tsavo E, NP run over a Sand Snake…I got out of my vehicle and tail caught the snake which was heading into the brush. Its skin was torn but I don’t think the ribs were broken. Otherwise, it was very lively and strong, about a metre long. Besides the dark speckles, it had an orange head and black and yellow stripes…so I figured it was a Speckled Sand Snake? Hope it was able to heal itself from this rude encounter with the Land Rover.

KatherineHerzog

Thank you Katherine! Good to hear that there are others out there willing to help save snakes. Yes the Speckled Sand Snake Psammophis punctulatus is probably the most common sand snake found in Tsavo East. The ones there belong to the southern race Psammophis punctulatus trivigatus and differ from the nominate race, found in from the horn of Africa through to the Sudan, in having the extra yellow stripes along the back. Below is a photo of one we caught on one of our Catch and Release Snake Safari’s with clients in Watamu earlier this year.

Photos by Royjan Taylor

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WALTER’S BIO-KEN EXPERIENCE

Today I thought I would introduce you to the Bio-Ken experience. This is a program that we created here at Bio-Ken for our visitors that do not have a specific research project. It accommodates students of all ages that wish to come and work with us to gain some practical experience in working with reptiles and especially snakes which we are internationally recognised for. We are well known for our high standards in reptile husbandry and snake bite treatment and Students from all over the world come and stay in Naja House our research accommodation at Bio-Ken Snake Farm. More info can be found on our web site www.bio-ken.com under research. Walter Schere is a student with St Lawrence University (USA) and is currently doing the Bio-Ken experience for a month, he has been here for about two and a half weeks now and this is from his Journal yesterday.

28 November 2007 (Day 17)

Today was an extremely exciting day because Ferry and I had arranged to go on a Vine Snake hunt to a place that Royjan had suggested. Royjan also the gave the go ahead to do this trip. We left at 7:30 and hiked down the road and took a right down a small dirt road. On the road we met Dengris (a local old snake man who is actually good at finding snakes). He reeked a bit of palm wine and didn’t speak to much English. We headed into the bush after that. We all split up looking from the ground to the sky. Dengris spotted a spotted bush snake, which we eventually caught. I missed it by two cm on the first shot but missed. Ferry got it after that with a snake noose. I held it and it bit me pretty good. Hadn’t been bit by snake in a while. Forgot it didn’t hurt at all. We released the snake there. We hiked quite a bit longer before we hit the “Jimba cave”. At the trail head we let a chameleon loose and waited for a bit to see if it would attract either a boomslang or a vine snake.

We hiked down to the cave afterwards. Nothing like I was expecting it to be. We were in a low (height) forest/bush land and all of sudden there was a huge cave that just went down. Ferry and Dengris had to ask permission to enter (Hodi…) because this was a real witchdoctor’sw cave. There were three or four chambers to the cave, the ceiling had some holes to let light in. A huge buttress tree had grown straight out of the cave through a massive hole. We caught a couple jumping frogs in the cave. In the cave we had to give a couple coins into a dish as a thank you to the higher spirits.

We hung out a bit more at the cave entrance setting the chameleon loose again. Still nothing. After that try we headed off to another small forest. Took us a while to get there. We set the chameleon loose there and waited for almost an house, still nothing. So we headed home, which happened to pass by Dengris house. Ferry climbed a coconut tree to get us some mondafu (young coconut). Had to dehusk the coconut and chopped the top off. The coconut milk (more like) water tasted ok, nothing great. Ate some of the flesh inside, which was a weird substance, kind of of jelly like. Came back to the Snake Farm and ate some leftovers for lunch.

Bonnie and I finished putting the metal bars away and tidying up the back of house area. Sanda seemed pleased with the end result which was nice. There wasn’t to much more going on after that. Fed two of the baby bush vipers but the one didn’t eat. Still to skittish. Dengris came back and told us there was another snake call for a “python”. When we got to the village and the young girl showed us where she had seen it it was no where to be found. Did a lot of good walking today. Pretty tired now. Ferry, Katie, and Alison are coming over for dinner. Were having samaki, skuma wiki, and ugali. Should be a delicious meal.

Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Walter Schere

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Photos by Alex Maluta


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STRIPE BELLIED SAND SNAKE RELEASED

This morning an Eastern Stripe Bellied Sand Snake Psammophis orientalis was brought in to the Snake Farm by one of the villagers from Jimba, an area on the way to Gede, about 5 km West of Bio-Ken. It had been caught in a village house where it had gone to sleep for the night. The Stripe Bellied Sand Snakes in the Watamu – Malindi area belong to the Eastern group and differ from the ones found in the Northern part of Kenya and especially the Rift Valley. These are known as the Northern Stripe Bellied Sand Snake Psammophis sudanensis and you can tell them apart by the fact that P. orientalis has no white marks while P. sudanensis has several. The ESB Sand Snake is probably the third most common snake in our immediate area. The Snake was released into the wild in the bush behind Bio-Ken today.

Photo by Anthony Childs (Reference)

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BLUE BUSH SNAKE RELEASED

It must be Bush Snake season in Watamu at the moment, for yet again we saved another one today. Late this morning Ferry and Walter Scherer from St. Lawrence University (USA), who is doing the Bio-Ken experience at the Snake Farm at the moment , took a snake call from quite near the snake farm. It turned out to be a very nice, blue colour phase of the Speckled Bush Snake Philothamnus punctatus. These snakes really have to be seen with your own eyes to believe how blue they really are. One of my favourites, I’m glad that we are still finding the odd blue one in Watamu.

The Snake was taken back to the Bio-Ken where it was inspected and found to be in a good condition. Joseph our senior guide recorded its location and released it into the bush at the back of the Snake Farm.

Photos by Royjan Taylor
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FERRY SAVES SAVANNA MONITOR

Early this morning Ferry was called to a village in Kanani about 5km north of Bio-Ken. The local people there had cornered a Savanna Monitor Lizard Varanus albigularis in their chicken pen raiding eggs. Fortunately the Monitor was not hurt by anyone and so Ferry caught it and returned it to the Snake Farm where these pics were taken. The Lizard will be released near the Arabouko-Sokoke forest about 7km West of the Snake Farm this afternoon.

Photos by Royjan Taylor

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BOUGHT A BUSH SNAKE ITS FREEDOM

Just a short one. The builders on a building site at plot 40c Watamu, had cornered a young Speckled Bush Snake Philothamnus punctatus on the veranda of the main house. Refusing to listen to me about the fact that it was not poisonous and so should be left alone, I decided to offer some money for it instead. Ksh 100/= about one and a half US dollars is what we agreed, so I handed the workmen the cash and took the snake home where I took this one picture and then released him in the garden.

Lucky for the snake that I was there.

Photo by Royjan Taylor

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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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