Kampala Snake Park: not for the faint hearted

10:06 by Kaggwa Andrew
Kajjansi for long has been known for their specialization in clay works. The town harbors the Lweza, Africana and Uganda Clays Limited; these are three of the biggest clay workshops in Uganda.
And, just to emphasize that they own the art, they have those half brinks named after the town; Kajjansi, as known to many Ugandans.
It’s believed that almost 30% of families in the out shirts of Kajjansi survive on pottery and other clay works that, even as you walk down the dusty road, the displayed charcoal stoves, half bricks and clay roofs were enough evidence that in this place, curving and molding staff out of clay is no rocket science.  
In my mind, I could imagine one of the residential kids standing in front of the camera to claim what he believes; “Clay, it is the strength of a nation.” (I wonder what the army thinks about this advert)
When I visited Kajjansi a few weeks back, I didn’t think of any alarming signposts besides bars, schools, churches and of course clay workshops.
It’s because of this that the sign post reading “Kampala Snake Park” truly took me by surprise. I wondered; which kind of people would visit a Snake Park, which kind of people would live next to a snake park? Which kind of people would even dedicate their time to run a collection of rattles…mbu Snake Park? For crying out it is a SNAKE PARK.
The curiosity made this trip materialize and, not to be caught off guard, I travelled all suited for snake warfare.
The snake park is about 3 kilometers off the main road. In my mind we were heading to some deserted grey area without a neighborhood, the reptiles would be all over the place, trees and some probably rubbing shoulders with us.
On such adventure, I opted for more protective wear like a trouser replacing my usual travel shorts, long sleeved T-shirt and a jacket on top and yes, I had gloves in my pocket just in case.
The actual snake park is quite a small affair; huts, house or snake pens, whatever name they call these shelters; they don’t look like one to house even a spider.
In fact, when the boda boda guy dropped me off, I still asked him If he had brought me to the right place. It had to be a place only for the brave ones yet, all I was seeing was a mini African recreation center.
We headed to the reception, it was a cool place, and the temperatures here would make you forget about the blistering sun rays on your way.
The assistant at the reception took us to Charlotte Nankunda Kyaterekera, the director of the park and Kenneth Semyalo, the snake handler.
Both Charlotte and Kenneth were at the Python cage. They were digging a hole for a white something.
“These are the eggs of the python,” said Charlotte of the rugged white thing.
“They are about forty eggs, but, when the female python coils around them for warmth, they get attached.” She said.
“Soon, we shall be adding about forty reptiles to our family.” She concluded happily.
She led us to the first snake shelter; they were beautifully built with an artistic decoration. The shelters were built using the Masengere rocks which look too beautiful and fit to house humans. Unlike bricks, the Masengere don’t produce extreme heat, they easily provide a cool moist atmosphere that snakes enjoy. Since all building at the park are similar, this explains the very cool moist at the reception.
The interior of the shelters is designed to suit the snake species inhabiting the rooms. There were trees, sand and a pond of water in each. For some like the Jackson’s tree snakes, the trees and grass were greener and fresh, just like in the wild. Part of the shelter roof was only covered with a thick net, the opening was to allow the snake access natural light.
Each room had between two to four snakes of the same species; it’s only the house and green snake species that shared a room. According to Kenneth these two are friendly towards other snakes.
“When snakes of different species are put together, one specie would eat these weaker ones”, he said.
However, as in regard to the forest cobra, all this changes. The forest cobras (the most common ones in Uganda) eat their own species, thus the bigger forest cobras don’t share rooms with their young ones.
Kenneth is truly a trained handler. He walked into the forest cobras’ den and stood face to face with these aggressive predators with nothing but a metallic rod to direct them. You could think they understood who he was.
He told us quite a number of interesting facts about the snakes in the park. All the snakes shade off their skin once in a month apart from the Vipers that only shade once in 2 months, in fact the ponds in snake shelters was for them to make a swim before they shade.
He differentiated to us between the old and new skin, the old skin looked pale and rough yet the new skin was shinny, attractive like those snakes in movies and magazines. The python (central African rock) being the biggest had more new skin to show thus, in regard to a python, new skin is weirdly very beautiful to look at.
In his explanation, Kenneth told us that snakes grow fats, and as they do, they outgrow their old skin too.
“At the time of shading, the snakes splits the old skin at the nose and crawls out of it,” he said.
Its one process that scientists would die to witness but even when many of the snakes possessed the old skin, Kenneth was sure we were not witnessing any of them shade.
Kenneth also doubles as the snakes’ feeders, he says, “Snakes feed twice in a month apart from the python which feeds once in a month.”
They feed on chicks, hens, birds, toads, chameleons and rats. The python however feed on goats, for the 8 or so feet long one and rabbits for the smaller one.  Snakes are fed according to their weight, once over fed, they die.
Most of the snakes in the park include the forest and Egyptian cobra, pretty and neat venomous species; they will lift their heads and spread out their hood when you approach their den.
Jameson’s mamba, fast moving, diurnal, secretive tree snake, it climbs fast and expertly.
Jackson’s tree snake, this particular one made an attempt on us with its mouth wide and fangs out. The poor thing must be cursing the dude who invented glass, which was the only barrier between us and it’s ill intentions.
The forest vine snake, according to Charlotte and Kenneth is the most dangerous snake on the park. Small as it looks, it’s the only Ugandan snake without any anti-venom to date.
“When that one bites you, there is little we can do to help you survive.” She says.
Its color is quite confusing that it can camouflage with dry bits of wood and still goes unnoticed.
Besides snakes the park is also home to reptiles; monitor lizards, crocodiles, telepines and the tortoises. Other species include a serval cat, spotted common large genet and the velvet monkey.
The park was established on 25th December 2009 and today, they have a collection of more than 15 snake species and over 70 snakes.
The park attracts both local and foreigners on a Ugandan visit.
“The attitude of the Ugandans towards snakes is changing, many have started frequenting this place to see the creatures” she says.
When she mentioned the change of attitude, I couldn’t help but remember the conversation I had with the Boda boda guy on my way.
He had told me of a rich man whose house was invaded by a relatively smaller python, on learning about it, he called the police, military police, and Anti-riot police, made an alert that the entire neighborhood gathered and finally called the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. Even when they removed it, he had the fully repainted, relocated for three months before returning….attitude changing towards snakes, maybe, maybe not.        
    
     

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