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Don't Kill Snakes, We Will Come and Collect Them and Pay You

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  Jan Sunday, 21 October 2007 20:18

Don't Kill Snakes, We Will Come and Collect Them and Pay You





 A remarkable new project is being developed in the Kwale hills by an enterprising young doctor, with his wife and two small daughters; a breeding centre conducting research which is adding to Kenya's knowledge of wildlife, particularly reptiles and invertebrates, and now developing the production of anti-venom.

This project is the brainchild of Marc Vosskaemper, a physician by training who is still only 30 years old, but has achieved success in two fields - medicine and wildlife.

As a student in Hannover, Germany, throughout his student days, he always had about four jobs but, after qualifying, he found he had earned more as a student than he could in a hospital.

"I was not satisfied with this scenario" he says, "nor am I not the type of person to sit in an office; so I didn't see much chance for personal development if I stayed in Germany."

Marc had developed an interest in reptiles as a student, encouraged by his then girlfriend, now his wife.

He studied studying this subject intensively, using both books and the Internet, and started collecting baboon spiders, which he found fascinating.

Eventually, he laughs, his flat was filled was invertebrate creatures, ten thousand baboon spiders in his town apartment!

"I found it so interesting, the diseases they catch - I suppose this is the  physician connection.

"I learned things handling them you don't learn in any institution."

Marc first came to Kenya in 2000, staying at Diani Sea Lodge, and knew immediately he wanted to do something in Kenya.

He had a house in Germany which he used as collateral to acquire a loan; he then came back to Kenya and  bought a plot of land in the Kwale hills.

Next came the problem get a licence to carry out this kind of research work - and he found out that these are rarely granted.

However, luck  entered his life at this point.

An Australian video team had heard of him and had made a film of his work with baboon spiders in Germany.

The film was released in the USA, Europe and Australia - and Kenya!

When he applied for a licence for general breeding of reptiles and invertebrates, the top people  in the Kenya Wildlife Service, NEMA and the National Museums of Kenya had seen this movie shown here in a national geographic series.

When they realised it was Marc who was applying for this licence, they had seen the film and knew that he was serious and experienced, so they granted him permission to breed this whole range of creatures.

That was the start in 2005.

"This gave us the authority from the local KWS to receive and collect animals from the wild as we developed the project" says Marc.

"We put out the word 'Don't kill snakes, we will come and collect them and pay you' - and that still applies, anywhere, to anyone in Kenya with any kind of snake.

"One of our key aims in this project is to teach people to respect these creatures, that they are part of the great chain of life, and should not be indiscriminately killed; that they are worthy, and have their place in the natural order of things".


"We first started to investigate what was available, checking on what research work had been done, and what breeding centres were in existence from whom we could obtain specimens to start our stock; but there was nothing being done with spiders.

"We had to take them from the wild to create a starting stock".

 The farm covers a sprawling 37 acres of wilderness - enough space for all the creatures, and plenty of room for expansion, creating pools and more compounds.

"We first fencing the compound and then started building.

"We started with a kitchen and reception, and then the pools, 10 x 10, one for land turtles, another pool for water turtles, another for monitor lizards.

"Cages were necessary for very big snakes, and for different types of pythons and sand snakes; and we needed a special house for chameleons.

"We designed the compounds in what we felt was the optimum best for these creatures - European style buildings with the  traditional Kenyan roofing to create the best possible climate and atmosphere for each species.

"Many of them are not indigenous to this area; they have been captured and brought from up country where the climate is quite different, so it was important to create as natural surroundings as possible for them".

They started with an old pick-up and 15 workers; they now employ 48.

Coastweek - - "We need so many people because, as well as the many different types of snakes which all need looking after, I have trained catchers who go out and look for specimens" explains Marc.

"As well, we need round the clock security against safari ants which can march through the farm killing everything in their path.

"Then there are all the spiders, and also we are breeding grasshoppers, rats, mice and guinea pigs to feed the snakes (this is something we try to teach people; snakes eat rats and mice, they are not lying in wait for people.

"They are shy creatures and only attack if disturbed; leave them alone and they will leave you alone."

Marc has two little girls aged three and one who have only known this life in the wilds of the Kenyan hills.

Ayana Magdalena, the elder, is very much at home in this invertebrate world.

She arrived in Kenya with her parents at the age of six months and has grown up with these creatures around her as other children have cats and dogs.

She followed her father, walking in his steps, watching what he did, and wanted to do it herself.

"We use a special snake stick to catch the snakes with a noose at the end which slips over the snake's head and then we can tighten it.

"Ayana saw how I did it, but the stick I use is too big for her so one of my snake men made her a special small catching stick.

"I first let her catch a small, non poisonous one, but she easily mastered it, she has a natural flair and no fear" says Marc.


The loan from Germany, 120,000 Euros was not enough to do all they wanted, so Marc took part time medical work, traveling back and forth to Germany about 25 times in that first year, having acquired a contract as an emergency doctor so he was able to use the money he earned to develop the reptile farm.

"Every time I need money I go back and do it for a month or two" he says.

This, of course, has maintained his links with his profession, and he has many contacts in Germany who would like to come to Kenya on short term visits to help the under-privileged in the areas of medical help, but first, they all agree, there must be a medical infrastructure set up.

Marc's wife is a nurse, and they both have seen the need to develop such a place to provide medical assistance for people in this remote area; poor people who often cannot travel far or afford to see a doctor.

There is no facility in the area for specialised treatment, operations and so on.

They met a lady working with Wa Toto wa Kenya in Wema who was looking for a plot for a hospital.

As this is only two km from their farm, they plan to work together to found a hospital there.

One of the rewarding things for Marc in the area of human development is to see the infrastructure in the nearby villages developing.

"My workers live in the nearby villages, and, before we arrived, there was little opportunity of finding any kind of work.

"Now we employ many of them, and I see development there - shops, roads, cafes.  This is very satisfying".


The long term aim is to have on the farm every type of reptile and spider that exist in Kenya, then so much more can be discovered about them, their habitat, their breeding cycles, and so on.

Marc feels he is not only working with a particular branch of wildlife and actually conserving some endangered species, but is finding out more about many species, and actually discovering species that haven't been classified before.

"When we have enough money we want to do more scientific research.

"There are many more types of reptiles than the KWS know about.

"We must learn exactly which types live where, how many, and which ones are in urgent need of protection".

Anti venom development is a high priority, and Marc started this work about three months ago.

They milk the venom from the snakes and are co-operating with companies who process and manufacture this product for the market.

"Eventually we will do the whole process by ourselves" says Marc.

"I know how to do it, but I do not have the equipment yet.  It is a very important part of our development and research, as at present, one dose of anti-venom costs around 17,000/-".

Marc feels that he has now reached the stage of development with the farm where he can accommodate visitors who are interested in his work.

Enquiries and visits are welcomed, but please call ahead first, whether it is as an individual or a group.

Contact E-mail:

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tel. Marc 0728 326760 Office 0724 007167


A most interesting part of research that has come Marc's way in the treatment of snake bites is the discovery that the Maasai use a particular stone found only in their area to treat bites.

They place the stone on the entry wound and, as it draws out the venom, it changes colour.

This might be dismissed as folklore, but Marc, a trained physician and now a reptile expert, has observed this himself.

"I have no explanation for it" he says, "but I have seen it work - not once, but several times."

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