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November 18, 2018

Dont kill snakes especially in the game parks

UNUSUAL SIGHTINGS: The puff adder. Photo/STEVE KINUTHIA
UNUSUAL SIGHTINGS: The puff adder. Photo/STEVE KINUTHIA

I had been driving in the Nakuru national park for almost half a day without spotting anything special. But I was well aware that in a national park or a wildlife sanctuary, it is possible to drive even for a whole day without spotting anything special. This can only be said for a person like yours truly who has been in this kind of environment almost all my adult life. I have seen all there is to see in the wild as far as the animals are concerned. So when I am in the bush on my own, I have something special to look for.

The common animals were there. The many groups of white rhinos were present, there was a particularly huge lion at the cliff top road with a kill of a buffalo, and the large herds of Rothschild giraffes ambling peacefully across open savannah to reach the acacia forested areas to feed. The overpopulation of the cape buffalos was evident throughout the park and especially where fresh water was available. I had to drive past all this because they were not part of the list of things I was looking for. I had to forget about the beauty of the pink lesser flamingos that used to be the highlight of the park. That is long gone for now, until maybe 10 years to come when the scientists think the swollen lake might return to its former level and the water regain its usual PH value for the spirulina platensis (the blue green algae) to grow again. At the moment, the present flamingos can be counted individually in less than an hour. Meaning they are less than 2000 birds.

Just when I had given up hope of getting a special shot in this park, my game drive eyes caught something on the side of the road near the sarova lion hill lodge. I first of all had to congratulate my keen eyes to have seen the animal. It was completely camouflaged, merging perfectly with its surrounding as it should when it needs to hide from enemy, or when hunting. I stopped the car close to the animal. The animal was not moving. It had no intention of revealing its presence by movement. Since I knew its behaviour, I switched off the engine, picked up my camera and stayed as still as the animal. When it finally found out that I was not a threat, it started moving along the side of the road towards me. I could now identify the animal. It was a snake. A puff adder to be precise.

A puff adder is one of the most common snakes in Kenya and east Africa as a whole. It is a snake that is feared most because it is the leading killer snake in the country. Reason because it likes resting or basking on clear paths which are in turn used by people. It is a snake that is relatively aggressive when protecting itself. The strike is done at lightning speed and it is almost impossible to escape a strike from a puff adder at the correct distance. Once the strike is initiated, it will happen.

Much as the puff adder is hated by many, it is an integral part of the environment and plays its part in the balance of the eco system. It has its enemies in the likes of the secretary bird, the martial eagle and the mongooses. In turn, it preys on mice, rats, frogs, lizards and small birds. Undisturbed, the puff adder is a docile snake that moves slowly and peacefully without aggressively seeking confrontation. When startled, the puff adder will puff itself to look extra large and hiss continuously, coiling itself in readiness for a strike if need be. It will also try to retreat to a hiding place where its colours will merge with the surrounding, to get away from trouble. I filmed the snake as it made its way past my car and came to rest on a patch of the road for sunbathing. It was not hunting, nor in any way posed any danger to people because it was in the park. It therefore was very painful when I came back to the same spot and found it dead in the middle of the road. Careful inspection revealed that it was actually clobbered to death either by the workers repairing the roads or a local tourist. Please let the animals in the park live their lives. They are the reason the park was created.

Steve Kinuthia is a professional veteran safari guide and the proprietor of Bushman Adventures.

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