Yes, there are snakes in the cloud forest of Kilimanjaro. But do not fear. Sightings are extremely few and far between.
Because snakes are highly sensitive to movement, groups of enthusiastic climbers hiking the trails scare them away. They steer very clear of the trafficked areas, making it nearly impossible anyone would encounter a snake while climbing Kilimanjaro. Even most of our guides and porters, who are on the mountain year round, have never seen a snake on the mountain.
What kind of snakes live on Mount Kilimanjaro?
Let’s take a look at some of the species that find their home on the lower slopes of the mountain – the Gabon, Green Mamba, Boomslang, and the Twig Snake.
The Gabon or Gaboon Viper, of the family Viperidae, is a master of camouflage, helping it blend perfectly with mottled leaves covering the forest floor. Like all vipers, it is venomous. It boasts the longest fangs, up to 5 cm (2 in) in length. Their large triangular heads are cream colored, followed by a narrow neck that is only 1/3 the width of the head. Between the raised nostrils, a pair of “horns” is present and there are two triangular stripes behind and beneath the eyes. Subrectangular blotches run down the center of the back interspaced with dark, yellow edged hourglass markings. The flanks have a series of fawn colored rhomboidal shapes with light vertical bars in the center of the scales.
Adults average 125-155 cm (4-5 feet) in length and are very heavy and stout. A large specimen was captured in 1973 and found to be 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) total length and weighed 11.3 kg (25lbs) with an empty stomach.
Gabon Vipers feed on various types of birds and mammals, such as doves and rodents. There are even reports of Gabon Vipers preying on tree monkeys, brush-tailed porcupines, and small royal antelope. Once they strike their prey, they hold on to it rather than letting it go and waiting for it to die, which is very different from the behavior of most other viper species.
Bites from this species are infrequent due to their unaggressive nature and general sluggishness.
The Green Mamba, also known as the Eastern Green Mamba, Common Mamba, or White Mouthed Mamba, is a substantially sized, venomous, arboreal snake of the family Elapidae. Females are longer than males averaging 2 meters (6.6 feet) in length versus 1.8 meters (5.9 feet). Green Mambas have compressed heads followed by slender bodies and medium to moderately long tapering tails. Their relatively long fangs can rotate on their axis with the prefrontal bone giving more control over the movement of them. Bright green scales cover them dorsally, and yellow-green scales cover them ventrally. Sometimes, they have a few scattered yellow scales along their flanks.
Prey for this shy and elusive snakes consists of birds, eggs, bats, and various types of rodents. This agile climber’s green coloration provides camouflage amongst the trees and dense shrubs where it spends most of its time. They are not commonly found on land unless motivated by thirst, prey, or the need to bask in the sun. Dinural by nature, they sleep at night in leafy clumps or an occasional tree hollow. Unlike it’s much larger, more aggressive Elapidae cousin, the black mamba, this mamba is nervous and shy.
Green Mambas avoid confrontation with humans or any other potential predator by relying on their camouflage to remain hidden or using their abnormally fast slithering speed to flee. They can move up to 7 mph.
The Boomslang is a venomous, arboreal snake of the family Colubridae. Its common name means “tree snake” in Afrikaans and Dutch – boom meaning “tree” and slang meaning “snake.” The average adult is 100-160 cm (3 1/4-5 1/4 feet) long with some specimens exceeding 183 cm (6 feet). Although long, they are quite light, weighing only 175-510 g (.386-1.124 lbs). They have an egg-shaped head and sizable eyes that provide excellent eyesight. Males are green with black, or blue scale edges and females are predominately brown.
Reclusive by nature, Boomslangs flee from anything too substantial to eat. During chilly weather, they have been known to curl up inside the closed nests of weaver birds to hibernate. Their primary diet consists of chameleons, tree lizards, frogs. Occasionally, they catch small mammals, birds, and eggs, which they swallow whole.
Many venomous members of the family Colubridae are harmless to humans because their venom glands are small and their fangs inefficient. However, the Boomslang is a notable exception to this rule, producing hemotoxic venom that it delivers through substantial fangs located at the back of the jaw. They can open their mouths 170 degrees when striking. The good news is, they are timid snakes and strikes don’t occur unless people attempt to handle, catch, or corner the animal.
African Twig Snake
The African Twig, Vine or Bird Snake, like the Boomslang, is from the family Colubridae. They have slender, elongated profiles, depressed, flat heads with pointed snouts, and long tails. Horizontal, keyhole-shaped pupils give them binocular vision. Twig snakes are greyish brown with faint light and dark markings.
Although they conceal themselves in trees, they are often low enough to strike terrestrial prey. Mostly, they dine on frogs, lizards, and birds which they swallow upwards after killing.
Even though it is highly improbable that you would see a snake on your climb, it is still essential to be cautious. These snakes command respect so if you encounter any of them, simply give them space.
But if you actually want to see snakes, we recommend visiting the Meserani Snake Park in Arusha, or, if you fly into Nairobi, the Nairobi Snake Park. Both parks will give you an excellent opportunity for an up close and personal look at these impressive creatures.
For more information on safety while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, please read our safety guide.
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