The fear of Snakes in Kenya is cultivated. We are not born with it. Children love snakes as naturally as they love dogs and cats. There are about 100 species including subspecies of snakes In Kenya, or indeed the rest of Africa, not all are venomous but they all bite as their defense strategy.

The mere mention of the word snake is enough to strike terror into the hearts of those who are afraid of them, and that will probably include a large portion of the Kenyan population, who generally hate and fear these magnificent reptiles in about equal measure, walk in a room folks relaxing and shout “nyoka nyoka” then you will wonder if its fair that every Kenyan qualifies for an Olympic gold medal.

This is one interesting country where snake handlers are more threatening than soccerers “wachawai” the number of visitors to the national Museums herpetology department will never get close to the huge flocks that visited Loriondo “kwa babu”.

To be honest, this attitude towards snakes is with good reason, particularly if you happen to live in rural areas (Excluding ukambani) where there are indeed many species of snakes to be wary of. While the majority of these snakes are harmless, the venomous species are amongst the deadliest in the world, which accounts for the fear and loathing! An unfortunate encounter with one of these creatures could be fatal, especially in remote areas without medical intervention which is normally the case in almost every village in our beloved country.

So, for the sake of outdoor visitors, residents how about we count down the list of some of the most venomous snakes in the 254 I bet you must have come across one or two at some point but was too quick to run that taking time to identify it was not an option.

The list is based on the potency of the venom, the aggression of the snake and the respect they command!

  1. The Green Mamba

    Green mamba

    This green slithering beauty is indeed a sight to behold if you ever get to see it! The Green Mamba is a shy and retiring arboreal snake which generally avoids the ground and stays up in the trees where it is perfectly camouflaged. It is also non-aggressive, preferring to slither away un-noticed rather than face a confrontation, which is why we have placed it at number five on our list. However, it is a very venomous snake and a bite can be fatal if not treated. 

    The venom contains a neurotoxin which quickly affects the nervous system and the brain, and immediate treatment is needed if you are unlucky enough to get bitten. So, avoid climbing trees and make a lot of noise as you walk in the forest……

    4. The Boomslang

As the name suggests (Boom is the Afrikaans word for tree) this tree snake also enjoys being off the ground. The male Boomslang is a most attractive green, while the female is a dull brown, but both blend into their arboreal background really well.

Boomslangs are one of the few snake species where sexual dimorphism is evident. Females are almost always brown, whereas males exhibit more vibrant coloration. It is difficult to understand why this sexual dimorphism should occur, as it is not seen in other arboreal snakes, such as bush snakes (Philothamnus) or mambas (Dendroaspis), that frequent similar habitat across some of the boomslang’s range

The interstitial skin (the skin between the scales) of the neck is black and most apparent when the snake inflates the neck region during warning displays. Young green-phase boomslangs may often be mistaken by the layman for green mambas

 Like the Green Mamba, the Boomslang is also shy and non-aggressive and will not attack unless it is cornered or severely provoked.  When it does bite, you could be in big trouble!  The venom contains a haemotoxin that stops the blood clotting process, causing the victim to eventually suffer internal bleeding and death after 2 to 5 days.  Contributing to the possibility of a fatality is the fact that symptoms sometimes only occur after 24 hours, by which time kidney damage could be well underway. Treatment with anti-venom should be as swift as possible.

3. The Cobra

The Cobra is infamous all over the world, and Kenya has been endowed with no less than 4 species of this lethal snake, making it inevitable that human and Cobra interactions are quite frequent, especially in the rural areas.  The four species found in Kenya are the Black-necked Spitting Cobra, the Red Spitting Cobra, the Forest Cobra and the Egyptian Cobra.  Did I mention that the largest species of Spitting Cobra was found in Kenya and measured a whopping 8.9ft long.  While wildlife enthusiasts were excited by this find, the locals were not impressed and just wanted it removed as far as possible from their lives!


Spitting cobra

The incidences of human and cobra encounters have been on the increase due to the Egyptian Cobra’s love of domestic fowl and rats, which is really bad news for the villagers.  The venom of the Cobra is neurotoxic and a bite is fatal if not treated.  In addition, the spit can cause blindness if it hits the eyes and the bite is excruciatingly painful.  So, although this is an impressive snake and watching it rear up and display its hood is quite a spectacle, a Cobra encounter is best enjoyed with a glass partition between you and the snake.

2. The Black Mamba

The mouth being black explains the origin of the name

I know you are wondering why the Black Mamba, one of the world’s most notorious snakes has been downgraded to number 2.  Being the longest and most poisonous snake in Africa, the fastest snake and most venomous land snake in the world and probably the most bad-tempered snake in the world have justly assured that the Black Mamba is one of the most respected and feared snakes in Africa.

The Black Mamba is actually quite shy and secretive, but when cornered or confronted it will react with incredible aggression, often striking repeatedly just to make sure that you get the point!  The reason that this snake features so close to the top of the list is due to increased human encroachment into the wild, which means that human encounters with the Black Mamba are on the increase.

Once bitten, the effects of the neurotoxins in the venom can be seen in minutes and death can occur in a very short space of time unless the anti-venom is administered promptly, which means that most victims in remote rural areas will not survive a bite from this snake.

 1. The Puff Adder

Be very wary when you hear a puffing sound in the bushes……

Coming in at a well-deserved number one is the Puff Adder, which is responsible for the highest rate of snakebite deaths in Kenya.  These very stunningly beautiful snakes tend to enjoy basking in the sun, and often choose to do so in the middle of well-worn footpaths.  They are also very sluggish, and do not bother to get out of the way when they hear movement, but rather seem to have a specific willingness to attack the unwary users of the footpath, and strike with lightning speed, and then withdraw and prepare for a second strike. 

An Adder’s venom contains a cytotoxin, which means that it destroys tissue, and necrosis sets in around the bite.  If not treated, the bite is fatal and the area around the bite will continue to die and this may lead to amputation of the affected limb.  In addition to the nasty effects, the actual bite is also excruciatingly painful.  In this case, there is truth in the saying the dynamite comes in small parcels.

Just so you know; Snakes are shy and deaf – they have no arms and legs so they don’t want to be stepped on. Instead, most will move away when feeling vibrations in the ground. The best advice when you see a snake, stop, turn around and go away. The snake will be happy to see you go away.” And if you do come close to a snake stop and don’t make any sudden movements snakes being deaf – will usually move as fast as you or faster.

African Rock Python “my personal favorite” 

Ophidiophobia challenge, post your picture embracing your fear for snakes………

Ophidiophobia challenge, post your picture embracing your fear for snakes………

I could not resist including this beast in the list!  It is the largest snake in Africa and the third largest in the world, and very deserving of a mention.  It is not at all venomous and it does not hunt humans, but an encounter with one will still be a very memorable experience.  The Python kills its prey by strangulation or suffocation and then swallows it whole.  It is known to be a bad-tempered species and will bite and constrict with great aggression if cornered or provoked.  It usually eats small mammals and reptiles, but has been known to kill children and even, occasionally, adult human beings.  It is a very attractive snake with beautiful markings and is much admired by snake enthusiasts, but be sure to keep your distance!