Herps of Dakatcha Woodland: a first glimpse

Dakatcha Woodland is famed for its unique bird species. However, little is known about its other flora and fauna. To begin to bridge this gap, members of the Kenya Herpetofauna Working Group set out to explore the amphibians and reptiles of this expansive woodland and also share information on snakebite management with the local community. The excursion took place on 21-22 September 2019. Julio Mwambire, a local guide, welcomed the team to Marafa. Divided into two groups, the team proceeded to the forest in search of herpetofauna at the Marafa Community Conservation Area. Two hours later the groups emerged with interesting findings: three species of lizards and one snake were recorded!

The hot sun took a toll on everyone and the party retreated to the campsite to pitch tents and prepare lunch. During the lunch break, three other lizard species were recorded: Sudan plated lizard, Large-headed Tree gecko and Tree skink. The most abundant on the roof was the Mombasa Dwarf gecko.

In the evening the team set out again, this time in search of amphibians. Julio took the team to the Kwanguluwe pond that was teeming with different species of frogs that were croaking. Some team members searched around the pond’s edges with flashlights seeking to identify the croaking frogs. Male frogs sat on stones and leaves floating on water. Frogs recorded were the East African (Acridoides) Puddle frog, Red-legged Kassina, Galam’s White-lipped frog and Guttural toad.

The team, excited from the findings at Kwanguluwe pond, requested Julio to take them to a nearby pond – Agina dam. Agina dam appeared to be more crowded than Kwanguluwe. The croaking sounds from the dam could be heard from the main road. Six frog species were recorded there, four of which had not been spotted at Kwanguluwe. The team returned to the camping site at around 10 pm.

Having not recorded a single snake species, four team members embarked on a survey around the campsite in search of them. Thirty minutes into the search no snake had been spotted. Just as the group was about to call off the search, screams from one member alerted the rest of a snake sighting. Fortunately, the snake was a harmless Brown House snake.

The next morning, the team headed to the Bore Community Forest Centre for opportunistic searches. The site was on an eroded hill and it was quite easy to climb down the hill. Three snake species were recorded at this site: Speckled Sand snake, Spotted Green snake and Spotted Beaked snake.

The peak moment of the day was the awareness session with community members at Kafunyalalo Primary School in Marafa. Community members were educated on the various types of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, found in their locality. Lack of knowledge on snakes among the people was evident from the interaction, and the team took time to differentiate the venomous and non-venomous snakes. The local people acknowledged seeing snakes with some having killed several. Snake bites were apparently a big problem in the area with a majority of the community members knowing at least one person who had been bitten. Getting treatment for snake bites was a major challenge to the local people as the nearest health facility was far and transport was poor in their area. Other topics discussed were how to avoid snake bites, do’s and don’ts of snake bites and snake bite treatments. Myths and misconceptions about snakes and traditional snakebite treatment methods were also shared, and the team dispelled some of the myths.

That evening the team explored Hell’s Kitchen in search of more reptiles, snakes in particular. Hell’s Kitchen – a dramatic erosion feature – is a major tourist attraction in Dakatcha and is famed for its beautiful sunsets. The hike was exciting as the team explored the dark gorges with the aid of flashlights and took photos of the amazing view of the canyons. There was panic when the team got lost in the middle of the gorges under darkness. They, however, traced their way back by following footsteps.

The team is grateful to Nature Kenya for providing funds for this project, the Herpetology Section of the National Museums of Kenya under the leadership of Dr P.K. Malonza, and members of the Kenya Herpetofauna Working Group led by Dr Beryl A. Bwong for their contribution and support towards the success of this project.