‘How to handle a snake bite’ and more

It’s a bit of a misnomer: ‘Snake Park’. Yes, there are plenty of snakes here but there are also crocodiles, fish, tortoises and turtles, giant snails, and the only American alligator in Africa. Admittedly the snakes are the main focus, but there’s a lot more to see here.

Regarding welfare, it’s not the best setup I’ve seen (the enclosures for the snakes and the tanks for the fish are pretty small). However, all the animals seemed well cared for. Also, the park are doing an important job in rescuing animals, treating illness, and sometimes releasing.

The snakes:

See all of Kenya’s snake species from the essentially harmless to the exceedingly deadly. There a puff adder, one of the most successful predators in the world. And a boomslang, the skin of which you can use for PolyJuice potion if you’re a Harry Potter fan! I was fortunate to see the boomslang catch and consume a chameleon. It was quite fascinating and I was told it was rare to see. The most deadly of snakes is the black mamba, quite a plain and unassuming guy really. However, a bite from this snake will kill you within 5 minutes. You can survive if you get the anti venom within 3 minutes but there’s only one supply of this in the whole of Africa and that’s in South Africa. You’re not getting there from Kenya in 3 minutes! My guide said the best response is therefore to chill out and phone your loved ones!

The deadly Black Mamba kills in less than 5 minutes.
The deadly Black Mamba kills in less than 5 minutes.

 

The Boomslang snake first kills its prey with a poisonous bite, then swallows it whole.
The Boomslang first kills its prey with a poisonous bite, then swallows it whole.

 

I got a good lesson in treating snake bites. So here’s the lowdown:

  • If you can, get a photo of the snake that bit you – very useful for treatment.
  • Get to hospital as quickly as possible.
  • Do not stop any bleeding and do not ‘suck out’ the poison.
  • If it’s an arm or leg that’s bitten, apply a tourniquet to slow the blood flow and thus slow transport of the poison into the rest of your body.
  • Relax. You may be dying, but don’t get stressed. The more anxious you are, the faster your heart rate will be and the faster the poison will be transported around your body. “If you panic it will only kill you faster” (another Harry Potter reference!)
  • If you’ve been spat in the eyes, wash them out as soon as possible. Milk is better than water and urine is great if you have neither.

My next ‘snake lesson’ involved how to remove one from your home:

  • Immediately find some large spectacles or sunglasses or goggles. It might be a spitting snake, which are incredibly accurate at hitting your eyes and will likely blind you.
  • Put on gum boots/Wellington boots and wrap your lower arms and hands with bandages followed by thick gloves.
  • Use a torch/flashlight to find the snake as they like to hide in dark corners.
  • Above all, be careful and don’t irritate it more than necessary.

The fish:

There’s a great assortment of freshwater fish. Also a display showing some of the native tropical species from the Indian Ocean.
Of particular note are the Nile Tilapia, used to beneficial effect by the government. These fish eat mosquito spawn and thus have a role in reducing the mosquito population and hence the incidence of malaria. I’d be interested to know the long term effects of artificially reducing mosquito populations in regard to the balance of an ecosystem though.
The other fish that fascinated me was the African Lungfish. It’s a massive fish with the amazing ability to breathe oxygen outside the water. It can actually live on land for up to four years despite being very definitely a fish.

Nile Tilapia used in the fight against malaria
A weapon in the fight against malaria, but is there a price to pay?

 

Other critters

Of the rest, I kinda liked the tortoises. The oldest was about 80 years old and actually came over to say ‘hello’ which was nice. And I got to hold a little one, just for a moment so it didn’t get distressed. Apparently, the species can live to over 200 years old. The juveniles can actually climb trees!

Tortoise at the Nairobi Snake Park that can live to 200 years

 

Conclusion

For me, it was a really enjoyable trip. Very laid back but informative too. It probably depends a lot on your guide as to how much you’ll really get out of it though. However, mine told me that the tourists who get the best experience are usually the ones who are interested to start with and ask plenty of questions rather than just taking a few selfies with the snakes.
I wasn’t lucky enough to see feeding time.  You can’t really predict when this will be as snakes are not fed every day. Of course, I did see the boomslang have a more natural meal!

Useful Info:

How to get there: The Snake Park is situated at Nairobi National Museum. From the city centre it’s an easy 1.8km straight, flat, walk up Uhuru Highway. You can’t get lost. Can be done conveniently as part of an organised city tour with private transport provided but see my upcoming post regarding those tours.
Opening hours: 8:30am – 5:30pm every day.
Entry charges: for non-residents, it’s 1500 shillings for a combined ticket for the museum and the snake park. Significant reductions for residents and citizens (take your ID/evidence).
A tour guide?: I used a guide for the snake park (available at the entrance) who gave me a lot of interesting information that I wouldn’t otherwise have found out. There’s not too much printed information available.
Photography: Photographs are allowed but no video recording.

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