By Gitonga Njeru

Conservationists are urging the government to put more attention to serpents. This is as their numbers continue to decline for many reasons.

“There are many reasons that snakes are declining in numbers, but the major reasons are a number of the snakes being trafficked.They are trafficked mostly to zoos and for the growing demand for the serpents as pets”, said Victor Wesonga, a leadHepertologist at the National Museums of Kenya who has done extensive research on vipers.

Some of the species that are trafficked are the African Rock Python, Sand Boa( part of the python family) and the Egyptian Cobra. But he quickly points out that the major concerns are two of the rarest viper species.

“The viper species that we should worry about are the Kenya Horned Viper and the Mt.Kenya Bush Viper. They are trafficked mostly to China and Europe.

“Their numbers are on a rapid decline though no recent data has been produced to verify the situation. That is why a special task force needs to be set up”, said Wesonga.

He adds that more attention is focused on Elephants and Rhinos.

Over 30 conservationists from different organizations including World Wildlife Fund, International Union on the Conservation of Nature have called for increased Surveilance by Kenya to save the serpents.

“If the same attention on preserving these viper species which play a very important role in the ecosystem is put, their numbers can increase gradually”, said Wesonga.

These rare vipers can kill within eight minutes after a venomous bite. They have been listed in 2016 in the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The Geneva based Convention listed the Mt. Kenya Bush Viper and the Kenya Horned Viper in appendix two in a 2016 International conference in South Africa. Appendix two, means they are endangered.

According to Wesonga, the two viper species are only endemic in Kenya.  They are found in highland temparatures around Mt. Kenya, and Hells Gate National Park.

They are also very beneficial to the ecosystem where they live as the are known to feed on pests dangerous to humans such as rodents that stray their out of protected areas.

According to Wesonga, they are a major source of Ecotourism as well.

“Other reasons for their endangeremnent is habitat distruction and high demand by international research institutions for medical research in its venom”, Wesonga explained.

The viper venom has compounds that manufacture drugs that treat diabetes  and high blood pressure.

This story was made possible with a grant from the Earth Journalism Network.