Kenya has 126 snake species yet most people will probably never see a single one of these elusive reptiles in their entire life! We shall profile five of Africa’s deadliest snakes found in Kenya – the so-called Big Five snakes.
Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
The Black Mamba’s reputation as one of Africa’s deadliest snakes is unquestionable. This snake evokes fear in East, Central and Southern Africa where it thrives. Its aggressiveness when cornered is legendary. The Black Mamba can reach speeds of up to 20 KMH (12 MPH). It is the largest venomous snake in Africa with adults reaching an average of 2.5 M (8 F) in length.
Black Mambas are not black at all, but brown/olive-skinned. Their mouths are inky black which they show when threatened. Black Mambas live in Savannah, scrub, tree hollows, and sometimes people’s homes.
If a Black Mamba encounters prey it can strike up to 12 times, each time delivering enough neuro and cardio-toxic venom to kill a dozen men within an hour. Without anti-venom, the mortality rate is 100%.
Puff Adder (Bitis arietans)
The Puff Adder earns its place in our list of Africa’s deadliest snakes because it is responsible for the most human fatalities. Puff Adders have a solid build with a wide girth. They can reach an average length of around one metre.
Colour patterns vary depending on where they live. Their habitats extend throughout Africa except for dense rainforests and deserts.
The Puff Adder has large fangs and its venom is powerful enough to kill a grown man with a single bite. Puff Adders rely on camouflage for protection and lie still if approached. Because of this, people tend to step on them and get bitten. Many fatalities occur because bites are not treated correctly, leading to infection and gangrene.
Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)
The Boomslang is an extraordinarily dangerous tree-dwelling snake found in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, its name in Afrikaans means ‘tree snake’. Females are brown and males are light green with black highlights.
The Boomslang can reach an average length of 1.5 M (5 F). Human fatalities are rare since this snake is very timid but spectacular. Its venom, which it delivers through its fangs located at the back of its head, is haemotoxic, which means that it affects the body’s natural blood-clotting mechanism resulting in the bleeding of the internal organs.
Sometimes it can take as long as 24 hours before the symptoms of the venom can be felt or seen. Once it gets to work, however, a person can bleed to death from every orifice.
African Rock Python (Python sebae)
The African Rock Python is the largest snake found on the African continent and the third-largest in the world. It grows up to 6.5 M (25 F) long and can weigh over 90 KG (200 LBS). The African Rock Python feeds on gazelle, birds, rodents, lizards, warthog, baby crocodiles and anything else in that size range that it is able to ambush.
The snake is non-venomous but that does not make it any less dangerous. It relies on stealth to get close and then latches onto prey with its teeth to coil around the victim’s body to prevent escape. Attacks on men are rare because humans are outside the normal size range for prey.
After a large meal, the snake will take a week or more to digest the contents of its stomach and at this time, it is very vulnerable to other predators because it becomes very lethargic and less mobile.
Kenya has 4 Cobra species, the Black-Necked Spitting Cobra, the Red Spitting Cobra, the Egyptian and Forest Cobra. For a long time, the African Black Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricollis) was Africa’s largest Cobra. It reached a length of h up to 7 feet in length.
But now the title of the world’s largest spitting cobra currently rests with the Large Brown Spitting Cobra (Naja ashei). Naja ashei, discovered recently in Kenya, measures an amazing 15 feet.
This predator feeds primarily on snakes and rodents. As is the case with all cobras the female lays the eggs. One clutch per year is deposited in rotting vegetation. 75-80 days are the average incubation time for this species.
Monitor lizards, as well as other predators, exert a heavy toll on the eggs in the nest but baby cobras possess powerful venom to protect themselves.
The cobra can kill its first meal at birth which it does not, however, consume for almost a week while it completes absorbing nutrients from the egg.
Where to See Snakes in Kenya
These five snakes are deadly. Africa fears them as much as it respects them. They have earned a place in my Big Five list of Africa’s deadliest snakes. A few places exist where you can catch the big five snakes in Kenya. The Nairobi Snake Park at the Nairobi National Museum is one of them. The East African Reptiles in Watamu (formerly Bio-ken farm) owned by the East African Venom Supplies (EAVS) particularly stand out.
Founded in 1980, EAVS combines reptile research and education to deliver an all-round-snake experience. They milk snake venom to produce antivenom used in the treatment of snake bite victims. In case you spot a snake in your compound and need it removed, EAVS provides removal services within the Watamu area. Hop onto their snake safari and perhaps you may learn a thing or two about dangerous snakes – not to worry though, they also have the not-so-dangerous ones!
Nice article.Useful information.
Thank you. We hope you will keep coming back for more.
Very informative, short but well written and good facts. Thank you.
Thank you very much Tony and thanks for stopping by. We are soon launching our digital magazine which will carry periodic compilation of the latest updates from our blog posts and many more. You can subscribe by following this link.
Most of the photos you have are misidentified. Your first snake is an Australian Red-bellied Blacksnake. Your “black mamba” is one of the Cobras, maybe Egyptian Cobra. Your “cobra” photos is one of the South American Treeboa species, probably Corallus ruschenbergi.
Hi Chris. That is most unfortunate. We thought we had this down to a science! We certainly give the photos a third eye. Do you have photos of them by any chance you might be willing to share?
Thanks for the information. I have learnt.
You are welcome.
I stay in Donholm, Nairobi. There are instances, like today when I’ll find a snake in the house (approximately 1-meter black snake with grey belly, how poisonous are these snakes? Should I keep anti-venom in the house?).
Thank you Moses for stopping by. It is quite tricky to tell a venomous snake from a non-venomous one but these few indicators might help.
Venomous snakes have a banded pattern of yellow, brown, and black on their scales. Some non-venomous types also spot the same colours as camouflage though!
Venomous snakes have a more triangular-shaped head while non-venomous ones have a rounded head. However, some non-venomous snakes can mimic the triangular shape of non-venomous snakes by flattening their heads. This makes them appear more dangerous to potential predators but they are not. Venomous snakes possess pits (or holes) on their snouts which allow them to detect infrared radiation from prey.
Like a cat’s eye, poisonous snakes have thin, black, vertical pupils surrounded by a yellow-green eyeball while non-venomous snakes have rounded pupils. Unfortunately, you need to be quite close to the snake to see this which may already be too dangerous for you.
As to whether you can keep anti-venom in the house, the answer is it is not advisable because of its mode of administration. Anti-venoms are normally administered intravenously through IV or injection which by itself requires some level of knowledge of the human anatomy to avoid tissue or muscle damage. The anti-venoms themselves are either monospecific which means they treat a specific type of bite, or polyspecific (those that treat bites from a number of snakes found in a particular geographic region). There is no need to keep a monospecific anti-venom unless your area has a specific species of snake.
Thank you for sharing with us.
I would like to know the kind of snakes one is likely to come across in Nanyuki.
A neighbor (Sweet-waters) killed one he found in his chicken coop. He described it as big and black.
Hello Joseph and thanks for stopping by. A possible candidate fitting your description might be the Cape wolf snake (Lycophidion capense). This species is docile and harmless and tends to be confused with the very venomous stiletto snake found in coastal Kenya.
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