Swaying to the hypnotic rhythm of the viper in front of him, Royjan Taylor, Watamu snake-venom milker shows no fear for the venomous fangs of this slithery reptile as he holds its mouth wide open with ease.
Taylor whose firm, Bio-Ken Snake Farm, makes antivenin for treating snake bites, captures the reptiles from the wild and brings them to this sanctuary.
A while back, a three-year-old boy from Kalabata village in Baringo North Sub-County died after being bitten by a poisonous snake.
He was playing with his siblings at home when he fell on the puff udder, which bit him four times on the waist. He died on the way to hospital as he father desperately sought help at several healthcare centres.
Mr John Rong’uno, the boy’s father, said they first rushed him to the nearest health facility but there was no health worker, so they cycled another 20 kilometres to Bartabwa Health Centre.
“At the facility, we waited for more than four hours for the nurse on duty to arrive. The child was not even given first aid and we were later referred to the Baringo County Referral Hospital in Kabarnet since there were no anti-venom drugs at the facility,” Mr Rong’uno explained. “The child died on the way to Kabarnet, more than 50 kilometres away.”
The incident happened barely eight months after a seven-year-old boy died of a snake bite in Kapkoiwo, Baringo North Sub-county, after being bitten by a snake while herding cattle. He died while undergoing treatment at the Kabartonjo Sub-county Hospital.
Deaths from snake attacks have also been reported recently in Tharaka-Nithi and Lamu, but in most cases, such incidents go unreported.
The abundance of snakes in arid and semi-arid areas or during the rainy season, coupled with a chronically underfunded health system, means the snakebite mortality rate across the country is fairly high.
Cases of snake bites typically increase at the beginning of the rainy season, when the reptiles come out of their shelter to hunt and breed.
The snake bite menace is also prevalent in dry and arid areas like Baringo, Kitui, Kilifi, Wajir, Garissa, Machakos, Marsabit, Isiolo, Makindu, Mwingi, and Taveta as the snakes slither into homestead to seek water and shelter.
Baringo County Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Deputy Warden David Cheruiyot told DN2 that in 2017, for instance, more than four deaths and 13 injuries were reported, while in 2018, four deaths and 55 snakebite injuries were reported.
“The situation is worse during the dry spell, with snakes straying into homesteads in search of water. We have been advising people to put water outside their homes to reduce the chances of being bitten,” said Mr Cheruiyot.
The untimely deaths of the two children have sparked concerns over the rising number of deaths from snake bites in the Kerio Valley as the region grapples with an acute shortage of anti-venom.
Snake Bite Rescue Rehabilitation and Research Centre Kenya estimates that 300-500 people are admitted every month due to snake bites across the country. But many end up dying or losing their limbs because they cannot access antidotes.
It is estimated that between 15 and 25 people lose their lives every day to snake bites while more than 100 others have their limbs amputated, causing them permanent disability. The situation is especially dire in areas like Kerio Valley, where access to healthcare is