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The Bio-Ken Experience

This is a position 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 now in our 28th year as an institution and are well known for our high standards in reptile husbandry and snake bite treatment.

We are sure that you will appreciate that working with snakes can be a dangerous pastime. For this reason we are very strict with our visitors/students and any careless or disrespectful behaviour will be taken very seriously.

For genuine students wishing to do the Bio-Ken experience we will charge for only their accommodation - max two at any one time. Naja house is charged at USD 80 (Ksh 5,200/=) per night, self catering, for students and only specific expeditions or Snake Safaris will be charged for as extras if need be.

Please make sure you book well in advance to get a space in time for the Bio-Ken experience.

For more info regarding the accommodation at Naja House see our section on guesthouse under research support.

WalterWalter Scherer at Bio-KenWalter Scherer a student from St. Lawrence University in the States wanted to get some good practical experience with the handling of snakes. He did not have a specific research project but really wanted to get stuck in and get his hands dirty. The Bio-Ken Experience is just what he needed. Walter arrived at Bio-Ken on the 12th of November 2007 and stayed on until the 29th of November 2007. He was a great lad and had a blast of a time at bio-ken. Walter left very much capable of handling dangerous snakes. This is from his diary...

From Walter’s Bio-Ken Experience Journal

12th November 2007
…we thought that the bus driver would tell us when we got to Gede because that’s what our ticket said, but he didn’t. We drove straight past the junction. So I talked to the driver and he let Katie, Alison and I off at the next small town to pick a matatu back into Gede. As soon as we got off the bus we made a friend that actually helped us Bio-Ken\'s two Naja Housebedroom guesthouse - Naje Houseout a lot. We only waited for 10min before picking up a matatu directly to Watamu. Watamu is much smaller than I was picturing, only a couple stores around, nothing big though. I got a Tuk-Tuk to Bio-Ken almost immediately, paying 200 shillings, which was double what I should have but I had no idea where I was.

Bio-Ken is smaller than I was expecting, but damn is it awesome. I’m in heaven! The most spectacular collection of Africa’s most special/venomous snakes (cobras, mambas, vipers, pythons, adders, boomslangs etc..) all very healthy. When I reached the Snake Park, I was directed to my house by Ferry and Boniface. My house is really nice, well-stocked kitchen (everything I could need), a screened in dining room, and my own bedroom (twin size bed) and bathroom. No one else is in theOne of Naja House - Bedroomtwo bedrooms in Bio-Ken\'s Guesthouse house with me, which is really nice. Unpacked for a while because it was lunchtime when I was arriving, so I unpacked and ate a snack while waiting. Afterwards Boniface showed me around the premises for a while, telling me about all the snakes. I don’t think he understands how much I know about snakes but I listened anyway. They have so many Gaboon Vipers (38), Black Mambas (45), Green Mambas (20) and many cobras all different species. After the tour I went into town with Ferry to the Grocery store where I picked up a good supply of food, which should hopefully last me the week.

I finally got a chance to meet Royjan around 5pm. We chatted for a bit while he fed some snakes. He really knows his stuff, but wasn’t the most open/friendly guy in the beginning. I think he’s going to be a lot like Doudi and someone I’m really going to have to gain his respect. Before dinner Ferry and I went for a walk on the beach. Stepped into the INDIAN ocean for the first time, and boy was it WARM. Small crabs running around everywhere. Came back and showed Ferry some pictures and music. Cooked a pasta with sauce (onions and peppers) with a little bread and a pombe. There are so many ants in the house, really tiny ones all over the counters (don’t seem to do anything), and a huge beetle and a spider too. So hot still, thank god I have a fan. Going to take a shower and probably go to bed. 

13 November 2007
Gaboon Viper eating a chickenSlept fairly poorly last night, crazy Larium dreams all night. Kept waking up hot and cold. Had a running stomach this morning so I took some Immodium before I went to work. Had some cereal and apple juice for breakfast. As I passed by Sanda’s house, she told me a fisherman had brought a Green Sea Turtle to the park to have the Turtle Watch people collect it and give him a reward. So I got to see Katie around 8:30am to collect it and do some measurements.

Work starts off with Boniface, Joseph, and Ferry each taking care of water and cleaning the cages from 8-10am. I went around with Boniface and watered the big Gaboon viper, puff adder and mamba’s cages. When we opened the Gabon viper’s cage the hissing that she produced was like nothing I’ve ever heard out of a snake. Definitely a force to be reckoned with. Boniface showed me Royjan and Sanda using grab sticks at Bio-Kenhow to take the water out of the cage using a piece of wood to block him and the snake. They all use snake hooks no matter that they are doing, which surprised me a bit, but it makes perfect sense now that I’m here and working with the most deadly snakes every day.

Today a group of doctors from districts to the south and north came to the snake park to finish a two-day workshop. The point of the exercise was to give the doctors a visual representation of the snakes that they wereDoctors workshop dealing with in the everyday snakebite victims. Royjan introduced me to the group, telling them that I wanted to pursue this as a career, which made me feel really good. I hope he knows how genuine I am about this subject. I went around with Boniface with a group of ten people.

It was interesting to see these educated people, completely out of their element when in the presence of snakes. Just distinguishing two very different species of snakes from one another, something that seems so easy, was very difficult for them to do. One man had a pre-conceived myth that the African Rock Pythons eyes lure dogs to them and that’s why they eat dogs. Myths such as these I knew existed but to hear it from a doctor who also believed it was interesting. Throughout the tour I learned about a snake I had never heard of before, called the mole viper. Boniface had just been bitten by one of these recently and told of his localized pain, which sounded quite severe. Need to read up on them a bit more.

Puff Adder at Bio-KenAt the end of the session, Royjan talked to the entire group about anti-venom. During World War I puff adder venom was used to extract large quantities of vitamin K. Vitamin K helps control bleeding on the battlefield, especially with amputations. It saved a lot of lives in treating these cases on the battlefield before they could get the patient to the hospital. Also, today, mamba venom is aiding in NGF. This is hopefully going to lead to aid in re growth of nerves after major surgery and spinal breaks. The day lasted about 5 hours of training.

A lot of problems with the distribution and hording by big companies of anti-venom. The people who need it most are in the poor rural areas who have little access/funding for anti venom. Royjan and his team are extremely active in producing the venom needed and distributing as much as they can to the people who actually need it. Unlike the USA and other rich countries who have an anti-venom for specific species of snakes (i.e. Eastern Timber Rattlesnake) there is a polyvalent anti-venom now for treating cobras, mambas, and viper bites. Only the boomslang has its own anti-venom.

Milking a Puff AdderProducing anti - venom is not easy. The venom is extracted from multiple snakes from the same geographic location, and the venom is dried substance (either soapy flakes or grains of sugar). This raw substance is sold to a pharmaceutical company in South Africa. There the powder is added with distilled water and injected (precise amounts) into a horse, so little that the horse is not even affected. After a number of weeks the horse is able to take a dose large enough to kill 40 horses. The blood is taken and serum is extracted. This is added with preservatives and the anti venom is ready to go (has to be chilled). It lasts for up to three years or until it goes cloudy.

The talk was concluded with a demonstration of Royjan milking a small puff adder. Was so incredible to finally see this done, he did it with such ease. The puff adder only exposed on of its fangs but it was amazing to see. I really hope that I will have a chance to milk a snake.
Watamu Beach
At lunch I ate some left over pasta and chips. Ferry came as expected to take me down to the beach, because at noon time its low tide. The tides are massive here so the ocean looked completely different than it had last night. We walked all the way out to the “islands” I saw yesterday in the water. Climbed up onto the rocks and got an amazing view of the coast line.

Watamu BayAfter lunch my dreams pretty much came true. We got a big batch of little chicks to feed every snake in the park. Ferry and I fed all the Mamba’s and three year old Gaboon Vipers. To feed the Mamba’s, we open the slot and throw the chicks in and close it as quickly as you can. I know that Mamba venom is potent but when that first one I fed bit the chick and killed it within three seconds MAX, I knew. Scary fast. After the Mamba’s Ferry and I, one by one, fed the three year old Gaboon vipers, two rhino vipers, and a puff adder. I got to handle one of them with a snake hook, which made my year! These snakes, although they appear lethargic, strike so fast. Even sideways they strike quickly. Ferry and Sanda taught me how to open the lids of the cages and properly drop the chick in.

Sanda talked to me about picking up little tricks about handling snakes. How to properly put a venomous snake into the bag etc.. She asked me if I brought my own equipment to the park. I told her no because I have no real reason to have it in the states because I live near very few venomous snakes. She said that’s ok, but should practice even if they aren’t venomous. I suppose she is right.

Relaxed for the last part of the day. Asking questions and talking to the staff. Going to cook Couscous with veggies for dinner. 

14 November 2007
Had another terrible night sleep, cooked an egg sandwich for breakfast and started our day. Sanda met me on my walk over that they had gotten a call to catch two snakes. Ferry apparently came over to wake me up, but I think he only whispered. I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get to join in the action but hopefully there will be many more.

Ferry and I collected the dead/left of chickens from the mamba’s cages from yesterday. Didn’t take long, but it’s always exciting to go to their cages. Afterwards we took a while and fed the majority of the house snakes and fed them rats.

Forest Cobra at Bio-KenSanda and I had a good talk about animal husbandry and the importance of taking care of all animals. In particular, she was talking about the small mammals Bio-Ken keeps as food for all their snakes. She made a point in telling me how important it is to make sure, up until the moment they are killed, that they are taking care of these animals. It definitely hit home to me because I have always treated the mice I feed my snakes with little respect. I’m glad that we somehow stumbled into that talk.

There wasn’t much else to do this morning. Ferry and I moved a Forest cobra into a new snake cage for display. Watched Joseph and Ferry take the spitting cobra out of the snake bag and put it into a cage. Very precise way that they did it. First Josepsh grabbed the bag below the twist. Then Ferry untied the bow and undid a couple twists. Then they put the entire bag into the cage with only pliers holding the bag. Slowly and surely they let the bag open until the bag was open and the snake was out. The cobra spat three or four times once they let it into the cage. First time I have seen that in person, sure was fast. Read some about the vipers of Africa afterwards. Met Royjan’s wife Clare who was darling and extremely friendly.

Experienced handlingAfter lunch I told Ferry that I get as much experience with handling snakes as I can, if possible venomous ones. So sure enough we headed back to the tanks to clean some spitting cobra’s tanks. We both had goggles and snake hook with us. He talked me through what we were going to do, procedure wise and then he opened the door. He grabbed the Naja sp. around the mid of the neck, where the hood would be spread, and soon enough it was out of the cage. I helped negotiate the snake into the holding tank. Ferry makes it look extremely easy, he’s very confident. It was my turn now, I opened the tank and grabbed the snake fairly quickly without a problem. I didn’t squeeze hard enough to hold the snake and lift it up with one hand. I underestimated the strength of a 6ft Naja, so Ferry assisted me grabbing the snake to and putting it into the cage. Such an adrenaline rush, good teacher and good learning experience. Cobras are much faster and more powerful than I was expecting.

Cleaning the cages only took a couple of minutes, but during that time Ferry had to give a tour to some Italian people. So I spent some time filling in some stock cards for the new arrivals. After Ferry was done, we went back to go over how to put the snakes back into the cages. Ferry took the first snake out as I assisted and then we switched roles. The snake I put back didn’t go as smoothly as taking it out. Ferry had to back me up quite a bit, and the snake struggled quite a bit. The snake got a little to close for comfort as we were finally getting the entire body in but we handled it. So excited to get this experience, Ferry is a very good teacher and is putting a lot of trust in me which I’m grateful.

After that I headed down to the internet café because Sanda was heading into town. The internet and computer sucked didn’t really get anything accomplished. Cooking pasta for dinner and will probably read the rest of the night. I have really gotten into the book “Man and boy” by Paul Peterson, just cant put it down. Pretty exciting because I’ve never gotten into a book like this.

15 November 2007
A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa - Spawles, Drewes & AsheToday was the first time I’ve woken up feeling rested. Had a good night rest with few interruptions. Work started off slowly as usual but I got to do a lot this morning. I was given the responsibility to feed all the Night Adders (Rhombic and four green). It was my first batch of snakes that I have ever fed toads to. The Rhombic Night Adder ate two toads, which was great. Joseph said they were picky eaters so I was glad that they ate under my care. Afterwards I was given the responsibility to feed the four of the Garter snakes too. This meant that I had to collect about 15 skinks from a tank in Sanda’s office. 2-3 inch long Skinks are really hard to catch in a big tank filled with dirt and logs. It took me quite a long time to wrangle up 15. I was sweating severely by the end. While I was working on the Garters I asked Royjan if he had any literature for me to read. He said that I should know the field guide as well as I could, because they had a good deal to do in writing it. He said I can always read once I get out of this experience, but now I should focus of learning the snakes by watching and handling them. It was a good answer and made me want to handle as many snakes as I can because who knows when i\'ll have these snakes at my disposal again.

Egg-eaterThe Garters were easy to feed, all but one ate at least three skinks each. These snakes look a lot like California King Snakes (less white) with similar disposition. During the feeding Royjan called me over to the Egg Eater’s cage to see something. About .5m snake had just consumed a chicken egg! The egg was at least 4 times the size of head if not more. I had seen it before on TV but it doesn’t give it justice. Seeing and hearing the egg crack in the snakes throat was truly a dream come true.

Some medic’s from the area came to Bio-Ken to get a tour of the snakes and have a talk with Sanda about snakebite treatments. Wish I had been a part of the talk because it sounded interesting but I had other work to do. I went around with Joseph and showed them the snakes of their area. They were extremely interested which was nice. During the talk I broke off a bit and watched Sanda force-feed the small Snouted Night Adder a frogs leg. Didn’t seem like she was going to get it, but sure enough she did and the snake held it down. Fed the two Tiger snakes afterwards, and one tiger snake a gecko.

Had left over pasta for lunch.

Work was a bit slow today after lunch, not having Ferry there is also a downer. Even so I made the most of the afternoon. I finished up the skink tank which was nice and clean now, felt good about giving them a new home. Sat around for a bit and read some. After that I took down the Prickly Viper and Green Bush Vipers and looked at them. I inquired in to Joseph whether they had eaten recently and he honestly said he didn’t know, so I gave it a go. I’m glad I did, because all but one of them ate a baby rat each. I put a new branch to hang on for the one who didn’t eat, and he nearly took off out the cage. I had to use both snake hooks I had to get him back into the cage! Nearly lost him, that would have been a tough one to explain. I kept my cool though and got him back safe and sound. Relaxed the rest of the day, read up on the Night Adders.

Katie and Alison came over for dinner tonight. It was so nice to have some people to talk to. I gave them a tour of the park briefly. On the tour I found a blind snake who had escaped and grabbed him, at first I thought it was a mole viper so I grabbed the hook. Definately wasn’t but better to be safe than sorry I guess. The girls liked the park but were definitely freaked out a bit. Cooked a damn good pasta dinner. Green beans, eggplant, carrots, onions, peppers, and garlic in an alfredo/red mix. Turned out really well. Good bread and some wine with it. The girls seem to be enjoying their IDS’s a lot and it was fun to share experiences even though they were extremely different. Played some rummy afterwards and finished the wine. My bowels acted up towards the end of the night when the girls were leaving. 

16 November 2007
Black-necked Spitting CobraJoseph and I took a spitting cobra out of its cage so we could clean the tank. When we placed the cobra into the holding tank, the snake went right out of the place where there should have been a pain of glass, but there wasn’t. So the snake slithered into the area, Joseph was baffled, but we grabbed the snake and got it back into its cage. Just ridiculous, but we handled it well and calmly. We laughed about it after the extremely venomous snake was in its cage.

I took the rest of the morning to clean and feed some of the smaller snakes in the park. Fed the File Snakes, Smiths Racer (who at 4 geckoes), and fed the White-lipped snakes. Never have fed a snake a gecko, they really love them. Gave a tour to a British man the rest of the morning. I chimed in a lot of good answers, couldn’t tell if Boniface liked it or not but I enjoyed giving the tour. Got off a little early from work today so I could travel down to Mombassa to meet up with the group.

17 & 18 November 2007
Shimba Hills National Reserve.

19 November 2007
Today was a bit of a slow day. There just wasn’t much going on in the farm. We removed an 8 ft African Rock Python from its cage and checked it for ticks and then soaked it in a bucket for a couple hours to aid in shedding. We later found out that it has mites as well which can be detrimental to the snake if we don’t take care of it. After, I helped feed the baby Gaboon Vipers with Bonnie which took almost two hours. The baby Puff Adders didn’t eat which is not a good sign for them. Helped Joseph clean a couple tanks which took up the rest of the morning.

After lunch I read up on the Cobras of the area, getting to know them pretty well. And the more I handle them the more confidant I am getting about them. Gave a tour to a small family for the rest of the afternoon. They seemed to enjoy it, the little boy reminded me a bit of myself when I was at that age.

Went to the internet café after work, got to cruise into town on my fixed bike which I found out has terrible breaks. The internet was remotely fast this time which was a relief. Went to Mama Lucy’s to get some groceries for the week and went home. Attempted to cook pilau for myself tonight because I bought a spice package for pilau. Apparently the spices were enough for 5 lbs of rice or something so it was really flavorful and not very good. Couldn’t even eat it for lunch the next day.

20 November 2007
Today was a much more productive day at the park. Ferry and I started the day by taking out three different Ashe’s Spitting Cobras out of their cages so I could clean them. I was a bit nervous at first but I calmed my nerves after I saw Ferry take one out. Took me a while to clean, scrub and rinse all the cages.

Slender ChameleonWhile I was cleaning Sanda asked me to create and make a “hanging” device that would attract flies to the chameleons we just received. I was given half a head of a shark and that was it. She also wanted it to have a piece of plastic over it so it would not get rained on. I created a wire cylinder where the shark’s head would go and found some this plastic that I cut accordingly to cover the device. It turned out nicely and I placed it in the chameleon’s cage and we shall see happens.

After, I helped Joseph finish up cleaning the Night Adders and Spitting Cobra cages. Also clipped a branch for the Green Water snakes cage. Hung out for a bit before lunchtime. Tried to eat the left overs from last night but it was terrible so I maid myself a PB&J, peanuts and chips. Ferry and I are going to cook an African meal tonight (fish, ugali, and cabbage)

After lunch, the day became busy with the arrival of the baby chicks. This means that 60+ mamba’s get to eat. I got to feed all of them myself. Four chicks for two green mambas, two for just one green mamba, four for one black mamba, and eight for two black mambas. The work isn’t done after you feed them because when there are pairs of them you have to be alert that none of them are eating another one. The Black Mamba is a stubborn animal and will hold on to prey even if another mamba starts to eat them. I found one today with a quarter of a snake down another one. I grabbed the snake and grabbed it a couple times and it regurgitated the other mamba with the baby chick half way in its mouth.

Gaboon Viper at Bio-Ken Snake FarmBoniface put me in charge of feeding the Gaboon viper, Puff Adder, both beaked snakes and four spitting cobras. While I was feeding, two separate tours came into the park so I had to hold off feeding while they gave the tour. Royjan knows that some tourists would not be ok with the idea of feeding live chicks to these animals. Its better they not see it. During that time, Ferry and I placed the Spitting cobras back in their new cages. I got to take both of them out and did it without any assistance. Grabbed the head, then the tail and put it in the cage without any issues. When I closed the door I looked at it and spit directly on the glass that would have been my eyes. Feeling more confident about handling cobras. Ferry and I also changed the water of a forest cobra, which had a very different demeanor than the spitters. Fed the Black-necked spitter after the tourists left.

Ferry came over for dinner tonight and taught me how to prepare samaki, skuma-wiki, and ugali. First he de-scaled the fish and gutted them. Washed them good and fried them whole in vegetable oil. The skuma-wiki was shredded spinach put in onions and tomatoes fried. Added about half a 20 bob bag of skuma-wiki. Finally just boiled a little bit of water and added cornmeal and stirred. Until it was thickness, Ferry really cranked up the heat.  We had a good meal sharing stories and listening to music. Going to have a beer at a local bar with Boniface, Joseph, and Ferry. Should be fun.

21 November 2007
Last night was fun with the boys. Katie, Alison and their friend “V” (nice girl, talked soo much though) went to two small restaurants/bars and had a drink. It was nice to talk to the guys I work with outside of the Snake park setting. 

Since we have a snake show tonight which will last a couple of hours, work was a bit slow this morning. It was also slow because I was limited in what snakes I could handle because of a call we got from the Malindi hospital. A five year old child had been bit by a Puff Adder and needed two viles of polyvalent anti-venom. The only problem is we only had four viles total. So the snake park only has two viles of anti-venom, therefore Sanda asked me to not handle any venomous snakes until more anti-venom came in. I was pretty bummed about that but I totally understand why she has to limit me. Because god for bid, if I was bitten there would only be so much any doctors could do for me.

Royjan and Sanda milking a Puff AdderBefore Sanda told me this though, Ferry and I were moving some spitting cobra’s around placing them in their travel boxes for the show tonight. I took a large Ashes Spitting cobra out of it box and it spit on me two times, once in the arm and once in the stomach. I had my goggles on and remained much more calm than I was expecting to. I just let it do its thing, and calmly placed it in the bow without any problem. Pretty crazy though!

Sanda seemed pleased to see that my fly attractor for the chameleons was working this morning. Don’t know if they will actually eat the flies but it was nice to see my creation was doing what it was suppose to do.

There was one tour given before lunch, which took longer than I was hoping. Met Katie in town for lunch. We initially went to this hotel for lunch, should have known not to go, but we sat there for 45 minutes and nothing came out. So we paid for our drinks and left. The waitress got pretty mad at us but whatever they took forever. We then met up with Katie’s co-worker Nelson and he showed us a great local place to get some food. Had stew and chapatti, which hit the spot. Came home and took a power nap before work at 2pm.

Got prepared for the snake show the rest of the day, and took it easy. We met around 8:30 to get the truck packed up for the snake show. Boniface and Ferry got a good system down, and I a little out of the loop. The show was at Turtle Bay beach resort in an air conditioned room, I think the only room that has had air conditioning since I’ve been in Africa. I was extremely impressed with the way the snake show was organized and the how the material was presented. They did four categories of snakes: non-venomous, rear-fanged, front fanged, and hinged fangs. They had two or three examples from each type. The milked a puff adder, demonstrated how a spitting cobra spits its venom, and held a twig snake free-hand. I walked round the room showing everyone the harmless snakes while Sanda and Royjan talked. I even learned a lot of information from the talk. Ryan and Katie made it for about half the show.

Packed up and went home. While unloading I got to talk to Royjan a bit and he showed us some tree frogs and how to catch them. 

22 November 2007
Today I woke up around 7:40 because I forgot to set my alarm last night. I think it was the first time since I’ve been here that I stayed up well past twelve o’clock. Had a quick breakfast and was out the door by 8:10.

Joseph is out the rest of the week, so I took it upon myself to take care of his part of the snake park. I changed some water for the egg eaters and house snakes. I also took out and cleaned two of the Velvet-Green Night adders cages because they could use it. I really like those snakes a lot, I think it’s because they remind me of a Hognose snake from America. Afterwards I helped take out the Egyptian Cobra from its cage. This snake has quite a temper and is extremely aggressive. The particular snake we took out was really large and fairly heavy and needed to snake hooks to handle it. I cleaned the cage after wards and tidied the milking bay.

Naja House kitchenAfter that I decided I wanted t fix up and make my own grab stick, one that I will totally get use to and hopefully be able to bring it back to America with me. I scavenged around and found a half broken one that I could repair. Going to have to take it to the welder to fix it but I’m pretty excited about it. Came back and at some left overs for lunch.

Michaela and Jacob are coming today. Hopefully cook a good meal for them. 

Panena and I (mainly her) cooked chapatti, suma wiki and beef stew. It took a long time but well worth it. Michaela came over first. So good to see her. Just as I sat down with her my mom called with a thanksgiving epic phone call. Went running with Michaela Ryan and ferry. Good run, beach is beautiful. Came back and had a smoke and dinner. Turned out really good and delicious. Had a snake talk tonight at Hemingways. Good talk but wicked hot, had to wear pants. Michaela and Ryan came. Got a ride home with us. Michaela slept on the floor.

23 November 2007
Got to sleep in a bit longer today because we didn’t get home from the Snake show till very late. A group of Royjan’s chaps came by and I gave them a tour. Really nice to talk to some muzungu’s my own age. They were very interested in the snakes which was cool to share it with them. Afterwards I had an opportunity to watch the mambas be taken out of their cages for cleaning. This was the first time I had seen any large mambas out of their cages.

They worked in pairs, which is especially needed when two mambas are in the same cage. One snake at a time, Ferry handling one mamba and Bonnie watching the door. You grab them about a third of the way down from the head and pull it out. As it comes out the grab the tail carefully and the snake is in control. After that they move the snake to the next cage over which has already been washed and ready. Some of the mambas were extremely aggressive and some were not. Gave me a new respect for these animals. So fast and agile.

After the mambas I went on a mission to clip some tree branches for some of the cages around the park. Very successful and I made the water snake happy. We left for lunch a bit early to take four of the snake tongs to the welder to get fixed. Really excited to work on my snake tong, hopefully I can take one home. Ate lunch with Katie, Michaela, and Ryan.

The afternoon was dead so Bonnie let me go home a bit early to make preparations for my guests. John was at my house waiting for me when I got home. Jacob came over next. Went running and cooked dinner. Beach fiesta and good times. 

24 & 25 November 2007
Cooked a Thanksgiving feast. Ryan, John, Alison, Megan, Jacob, Micheala, and Katie all came to dinner. We actually had a turkey (had to kill it ourselves) and it turned out great. Had a really nice evening on the beach with a full moon.

Went snorkeling the following day. Saw some beautiful coral fish. Fantastic. 

26 November 2007
Today was a bit slow to get going work wise, but I had another good discussion with Sanda about anti-venom. We cleaned the 3 year old Gaboon vipers and took out three spitting cobras to clean. Bonnie got spit on three times with no shirt on, made a funny noise when the snake spit at him. Royjan came over after that and took some close up pictures of some foaming tree frogs he had caught. Talked about the next two weeks of work with me, pretty excited about these up-coming weeks. Fed the baby Gaboon vipers after.

Peter's Hook-nosed SnakeBonnie and Benson came over to try some Thanksgiving left overs. They seemed to like it a lot, especially the sweet potatoes. Joseph arrived a bit after the guys had eaten from a trip to Nairobi. Sanda was not happy that he was here so late, he was supposed to be back on Sunday afternoon. Cleaned the three year Gaboon vipers cages which didn’t take that long because they hadn’t eaten in a while. We are still waiting for the baby chicks to arrive. Talked to Alissa for the first time in a long while. Really good to hear her voice, feels like this last is lasting forever for our relationship. After that I fed the file snakes geckoes, and hook-nosed snake. Learned that hook-nosed snakes are mainly sub surface snakes that burrow into holes and raid nests. So we put its mouse in a hide log it has and it ate it over night. After that I went into town to fix the snake hooks Ferry and I took in on Friday. They turned out good and I’m excited to fix them up. Cooked rice, beans, and veggies. Ferry came over and had a big thanksgiving left over meal. Hung out for a while, he’s a good friend already. 

27 November 2007
As expected, Ferry and I worked on the refurbished grab sticks for a while. Sanda seemed impressed with the one I was using. Royjan came around 9:00am and had a big talk with Joseph and the entire employee staff. Took a while, seemed like Royjan was pretty pissed about laziness. During the talk I cleaned three cobra tanks. During the washing we got a couple local kids come in with a snake call. Ferry and I headed out mid meeting. Took a left and walked a short distance down the road to a small village. It was a small spotted bush snake. The family was very uneasy about it but it was harmless and didn’t even try to bite us. The snake farm really works, because if we weren’t here these people would have just killed the snake, but now they walk down the street and get it removed and get 50 shillings as a thank you for bringing it to us. Really proud to be a part of the park.

Fed the baby Gaboon vipers after we got back. Sanda got a little annoyed at me because I was working alone, so I had to postpone until Ferry could be with me. All of them ate fairly well. Only one didn’t eat. I got an amazing snake skin of a Gaboon viper which I’m really excited about. Put away one red spitting cobra after that. These snakes are much faster than the Ashe spitting cobra. After that I went to lunch. Had some left overs and a PB&J.

Fed the mambas after lunch. Always exciting to see them in action. Afterward I fed the a few of the night adders. Pretty slow after that, so I capitalized and got an interview with Sanda about my paper. Went for a run at five. Cooked cous-cous and chappati. Starting new book. Read about more snakes. 

28 November 2007
Today was an extremely exciting day because Ferry and I had arranged to go on a Vine Snake hunt to a place Royjan had suggested. Royjan also 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 drunk who is actually good at catching snakes). He reeked of palm wine and didn’t speak much English. We headed into the bush after that. We all split up looking from the ground to the sky. Dengris spotted a spotted a 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 hike quite a bit longer before we hit the “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.

Jimba CaveDengris finished an entire handle (in a Kenya Cane bottle) of palm wine. He let me tasted I thought it was fowl, but now I know why Dengris smells the way it does. We hiked down to the cave afterwards. Nothing as I was expecting. 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 witchdoctor area. 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 spirit.

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 madafu (young coconut). Had to de-husk the coconut and chopped the top off. The coconut milk (more like) water tasted ok, nothing great. Ate some of the meat inside, which was a weird substance, kind of jelly like. Came back and ate some leftovers for lunch.

Bonnie and I finished putting the metal bars away. Sanda seemed pleased with the end result which was nice. Wasn’t to much more going on after that. Fed two of the baby bush vipers but the one didn’t eat. Still too 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 but 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 on my last night!

Walter Scherer

November 2007