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KEN Press: Bizarre Cobra Theft

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Mon Nov 5 16:30:55 2007  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  

DAILY NATION (Nairobi, Kenya) 26 October 07 Bizarre Cobra Theft That Left Snake Handler in Shock (Macharia Mwangi)
Nairobi: Snake handler Samuel Mwangi alias Kanji is a worried man. But his worry has nothing to do with the dangerous nature of his profession. Rather the "business empire" he has painstakingly put together in his sunset years has almost crumbled.
In his humble abode in the quiet village of Kongoni on the outskirts of Naivasha town, Kanji as he is commonly known, has put up a makeshift snake park that is his source of livelihood.
At the park, he rears deadly vipers that have seen local and foreign tourists flock to the homestead to see the rare spectacle.
During the inception of the park years back, many thought his action was weird - rearing dangerous reptiles that are associated with evil since the creation of the universe and biblical times.
Over the years, Kanji has endured taunts and name-calling, but despite the odds, he has soldiered on, attracting admiration from friends and foes alike.
But last month, something bizarre happened that continues to baffle him. A daring thief raided his park and stole his treasured creatures rendering Kanji hopeless.
In the dead of the night, the thief stealthily made away with three puff adders, three spitting cobras and a Kenyan horn viper, among other treasured snakes.
The thief's attempt to steal a lone crocodile in the makeshift park nearly ended tragically, when the ferocious animal bit the intruder. To attest to this, the shallow water pool was bloody the following morning.
"Even in my wildest dreams I never thought anybody would dare steal the dangerous reptiles," says Kanji.
The incident has sent shockwaves in the village, awakening even the most skeptical, with many of the locals trooping to Kanji's home to ascertain the truth about this rare theft.
"I have always maintained that snakes are human beings' worst enemies and somebody stealing them is unimaginable," commented a local man.
True to his words, many peoples' instincts on spotting the stealthily reptiles is either to flee and those courageous enough, to try and crush the head.
For Kanji, his fortunes have nose-dived forcing him to endure sleepless nights now that his business that raked in hundreds of shillings a day is headed for the rocks.
"I used to earn between Sh2,000 and Sh3,000 a day which is no more," lamented Kanji during the interview.
He had not put up any security measures round the park owing to the nature of his trade. "In fact snakes can comfortably take care of their own safety," he said.
So what happened that night? I ask him. "Well, I believe the thief must be a skilled snake handler because they managed to tame even the highly-poisonous spitting cobra, one of the deadliest snakes around," he says.
The thief broke into the makeshift structure that houses the vipers and managed to steal 15 of them and disappeared into the darkness.
But Kanji is not one to give up easily. He recently travelled to Baringo district and came back with more snakes including the rare Egyptian cobra.
The short profile pinned onto the cage describes the reptile as handsome, much like the forest cobra with a hood.
A few metres away, a profile on the puff adder sounds a scary: "Most dangerous snake in Africa, highly toxic, sluggish and irascible, coupled with its penchant for popping up in villages and cities . . ."
During the interview, Kanji spots a snake slithering away in the nearby bushes and with speed and guile, jumps over and holds the mesmerised animal by the neck.
Smiling sardonically, he has managed an easy catch of a red spitting cobra which he will gladly add to his diminished stock.
"I'm now hunting for the reptiles all around in the bushes since the tragedy struck," he says.
Kanji vows never to give up on a job that continues to earn him a living since he ventured into snake rearing more than a decade ago.
He then delves into the genesis of the journey that took him to the reptile world. The year was 1974, when renowned conservationist and film actor Joy Adamson granted him an audition, in the movie "Born Free".
"I was only 24 years old when I was taken to the Sanctuary Farm for auditions," he recalls.
In the forest he came face-to-face with the deadly spitting cobra making his legs turn jelly. He attempted to flee. "I almost dropped dead with my frail frame coming into contact with a hefty cobra," he remembers. "My co-actor Julius Sylvester burst out laughing and urged me on," he narrated.
Kanji gathered courage and stopped as the serpent charged at him. "I got hold of its head, easily subduing it," he remembers. During the shooting of the movie he plied between Kongoni, Thompson Falls in Nyahururu and Naivasha town.
For the role, Kanji earned a cool Sh15,000 a day for the several days it took to shoot the famous movie. When Kanji watched his performance, he knew this was the place to be. The force behind his destiny confirmed, he was easily initiated into the world of reptiles.
Before his snakes were stolen recently, Kanji used to stage a cameo performance for his visitors. He would, with the batting of an eyelid, let the African rock python coil around his leg.
Unperturbed by the snake's antics he would uncoil it without breaking a sweat, sending visitors retreating.
Due to his famed hunting skills Kanji was recruited to the Kenya Wildlife Service where he worked for eight years before venturing into the private business of rearing snakes.
The 58-year-old Kanji is married to three wives and has nine children. His family, he says, has no problem with the kind of business he engages in.
However, Kanji has suffered serious injuries while hunting for his pets-snakes over the years. And two years ago, he was gored by a rogue buffalo that left him for dead.
"A neighbour alerted me that there was a snake in the neighbourhood and I decided to track it down only to walk into the path of the buffalo," he recalls.
He was hospitalised for two months at the Kijabe Mission Hospital following the incident. His left index finger is severed after a deadly rhinoceros viper bit him.
The Kongoni police led by Inspector Japheth Kioko have been unsuccessfully trying to track down the strange thief for the last one month.
But even for the police the case is a strange one to have entered in their Occurrence Book.
"The police have been of great assistance since the snakes were stolen and will soon close in on the suspect," says a hopeful Kanji.
Bizarre Cobra Theft That Left Snake Handler in Shock


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