When Kitonga Nzengu tucked her two children one evening last month, little did he know that an enemy he has struggled to guard them against would strike as they slept.
He rushed to their rescue after being awoken by their screams in the middle of night only to find that they were under attack.
The highly poisonous black necked red cobra which had slithered its way into the children’s bedroom had visited the toddlers with multiple bites on their hands as they tried to shake off the reptile.
Mr Nzengu, like many residents of the arid Mwingi region had adapted new ways of keeping marauding snakes at bay where he always kept basin full of water outside his house as he went to sleep.
The peasant farmer from Kandui village, regrets that all the efforts of fighting the snakes including, burning plastics and keeping cats to scare them away, did not stop the serpents from attacking his
His daughters are now part of growing statistics of people who are lucky to have survived snake attacks in recent years, with a worrying number having succumbed to its poison.
Victims narrate harrowing experiences of having to stay hospitals for long periods and eventually losing their limbs.
Kathini Mulyungi from Ithumbi village had a bright future until one evening in September 2009, when a cobra attacked her at night, marking the beginning of a life of pain and despair.
After months in hospital, her efforts to resume schooling and learn how to write with her left hand after the other was amputated proved difficult.
”We were asleep with my two sisters at our Ithumbi home in Mwingi district when a black- necked-cobra found its way into our bedroom and attacked me. It took cover under our bed where my mother smoke it out and killed it”, recalls Kathini.
Her education dreams were shattered and she eventually dropped out of school but she still had to live with the agony of the snake attack.
She narrates how despite getting first aid, her hand inflamed very fast, causing her breathing problems as she was being rushed to the hospital.
Her medical condition prompted doctors to immediately refer her to Embu Provincial hospital where her and was amputated to save her life.
”Though I have healed, I cannot do anything even minor jobs and have to rely on my relatives to get most of household chores done for me.
Her compelling story is among dozens of painful testimonies of surviving victims of snake bites in the larger Mwingi region.
The incidence of snakebites, leading to limb amputations and even death, have dramatically gone up in the last ten years from 20 reported cases in 2003 to more than 300 last year.
Records at the Kenya Wildlife Service office in Mwingi show that the region has the highest cases of snake bites in the country, which are attributed to climate change.
”Every month we record 10 to 15 cases of snake bites, as victims come to fill in compensation forms and the numbers continue to increase”, says the area game warden Joseph Njue
Experts say this could be as a result of the warming climate which has forced snakes to move away from previously cooler habitats after clearing of forests and the worsening droughts that force the reptiles to go into people’s houses to look for water.
Families living in snake areas are now being advised to keep water outside the houses so that the snakes can get their share and avoid venturing into the houses.
The only dilemma is these are the very areas where water is so scarce and precious that there is none to offer to the reptiles.
Snakes are known to have a penchant for warmer and drier parts of the country where conditions for their survival and breeding are favourable.
Snakebite incidences, leading to limb amputations and even death in Kitui County, have dramatically gone up in the last ten years from 20 reported cases in 2003 to more than 300 cases last year.
Experts say this could be as a result of the warming climate which has enabled snakes to move away from previously cooler habitats, clearing of forests and the worsening droughts that force the reptiles to go into people’s houses to look for water.
According to Dr Jacinta Kimiti, a senior lecturer at South Eastern Kenya University, the snake menace in Mwingi is a direct consequence of failure by locals to manage their environment.
Dr Kimiti, the Dean of School of environment and natural resources management at the university says the residents are paying a heavy price for failure by previous generations to properly manage the
“Human activities have cut trees indiscriminately, thus disrupting the eco-system which we share with the wildlife, the increased cases of snakebites should be a wakeup call to policy makers and the residents alike to put in mechanisms of reversing the trend” Dr Kimiti says.
The don explained that snakes can sniff water from many kilometers away and that they don’t end up in peoples home randomly. They are in pursuit of a comfortable atmosphere.
”High rate of charcoal burning, erratic rainfall and harsh climatic conditions have driven snakes from their habitat to co-exist with human beings resulting to the conflict”, observed Dr Kimiti.
KWS statistics show that Mwingi has led in the number of reported cases across the county, prompting the local district hospital to establish a special department to deal with rising cases.
Mr Josphat Mutinda who heads the unit, poor road network and inadequate health facilities in the remote areas have led to fatal incidences of snake bites related deaths in the region.
”Snake bite victims should get treatment in less than 24 hours but some victims reach health centres even after three days when the condition has worsened, notes Mr Mutinda.
Under the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, deaths resulting from any animal attack qualify for compensation of a maximum Sh5 million, while those who survive with injuries get up to Sh2
The agency urged Kenyans to wake up to the reality of the complex human wildlife conflict and devise sustainable ways of dealing with the menace.
Like the biblical story of the snake menace which plagued the Israelites in the wilderness, people living in arid lands are being warned to conserve their environment lest they bequeath the next generation a
more complicated problem.
For instance, victims who survive attack by the puff adder, a snake known to be responsible for many fatalities, end up with amputated limbs.
A research by a local Community Based Organization (CBO) dubbed Visionary Advocacy for Snake Cases established that in the last ten years, 295 cases of snake bites were reported in the area out of which 100 were fatal.
The Coordinator of the CBO which helps victims’ access justice, Mr Peter Musyoka says in the last 10 years, nearly 300 cases of snake bites have been reported in the larger Mwingi area.
Of the cases, he says 97 were fatal, 80 victims have been maimed with either legs or hands amputated while many others got minimal compensation or never got compensation payout at all.
”The core value of the organization is to sensitize the residents how to improve environment around their homesteads to wade off the snakes and at the same time educate them how to administer first aid
to the victims”, says Mr Musyoka.
Ms Rhoda Mwangangi, a director with Center for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRCE), a local NGO however cites poor infrastructure and lack of transport as the major cause of rising death cases.
“Most of those who have died lacked transport to take them to the nearest health centre for first aid and necessary transport”, said Ms Mwangangi.
” We encourage residents to spray their compounds with petroleum products like kerosene and burn old tyres so that the smoky smell can scare off the reptiles”, she says adding that smell from petroleum
products has been known to keep them away.