On Reptiles


With many Kenyans living in close quarters with nature as they do, one might
assume they have a deep fund of knowledge on animal behavior. In general it
has been my experience that this is the case. There is one class of
exceptions however–reptilia. In fact the general opinion is that if it has
scales it is evil. Kenyans make the habit of killing any snake or lizard
they can, preferably by hitting it from a safe distance with a stone.

Now if you live in a place of many snakes and no antivenin, I
can empathize with the “bash with rock first, ask questions later” line of
reasoning in regards to serpents. However, the Earth contains only two known
venomous lizards. One of those two has no presence whatever in Africa.
There are also a few lizards that harbor harmful bacteria in their saliva,
but these are also rare. Lizards are getting stoned by association.

Most Kenyans realize that turtles and tortoises are ubiquitously
nonvenomous, but they are still considered dangerous, or at least unnatural.
I was recently informed by one Samburu Man that a common potty-training
method among the Samburu is to tell a child the punishment for incontinence
is that they will have to sit on the shell of a live tortoise. This is
apparently a thought so profoundly unsavory that it acts as a strong

Then there is the Chameleon. Can anything be more unhappily made? More
certainly an issue from the most depraved corner of nature? See how his eyes
cannot look at one thing together? See how his tail makes a tight coil? He
can climb smooth surfaces. Did you know he catches food by shooting out his
tongue? Never mind all that, his skin changes color!!! Horror. Few are the
Kenyans with the brass to turn their back on a live chameleon. The jury
seems to still be out on whether it is in fact a living creature, or some
kind of small demon. I personally think this a grave injustice. If ever man
had a friend among the cold-blooded land dwellers, it must be the
chameleon. The most awful thing he can do is eat flies and mosquitoes
near your house. The chameleon will tolerate you picking him up. He will
climb gingerly about on your shirt and hair. He may show you the delight of
his camouflage or his whiplash tongue. If ever there was a cool cat among
the reptiles it is he. Luckily, the aura of the chameleon generally protects
him from violence from his Kenyan neighbors. A chameleon is so profoundly
wrong, you just get away from it.


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