Jonathan Leakey: The Man Who Minted Millions From Snake Farming in Kenya

  • File photo of a cobra snake
    File photo of a cobra snake
    File
  • Jonathan Leakey is credited with introducing the lucrative snake farming business in Kenya. Most publications, both local and international, have described him as the father of snake farming in Kenya.

    He made a fortune from the business of hunting and selling rare viper snakes to many companies in Europe and parts of South America.

    Preliminary reports before the government imposed restrictions on snake farming indicated that the rare vipers were being sold for close to Ksh10,000 a piece in South America and Chinese markets.

    The most sought ones included the horned viper (Bitis Worthingtoni) and the Mt Kenya bush viper or Ashe’s viper (Atheris desaixi). The venom is extracted for research on chronic diseases and drug development and manufacture of anti-venom medicine.

    File photo of tourists visiting a snake farm in Baringo
    File photo of tourists visiting a snake farm in Baringo
    File

    Leakey is credited with establishing the first snake farm in the country. The son of Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey chose to hunt snakes and supplied venoms to South African and US companies for the manufacture of anti-venom.

    He established the Nairobi Snake Park in 1961 and served as its first curator. After that, Leakey settled in Baringo where he set up his own snake farm in the 1970s.

    In 1990, he employed his father to work at his snake farm in Baringo. His father worked for him until 2001 when he also established his own farm.

    But Leakey, who was always on the move running different errands, decided to shut down his own farm. At that, he was already an established snake farmer.

    In 2003, the government started a crackdown and confiscated all his father's snake collections. He was also jailed for nine days, forcing the family empire to crumble.

    To honour his contribution in the snake farming industry, scientists named the carpet viper of Baringo Echis Pyramidum Leakeyi, which is the most common snake found in the harsh environment of Baringo.

    Before venturing into snake farming, Leakey at the age of 26 years, found the fossil remains of a 10-year-old child of Homo Habilis in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, which was then nicknamed Jonny's Child.

    Leakey died on July 12, 2021, and was cremated on July 28 at a private ceremony in Nairobi leaving behind a rich history in snake farming. Coincidentally, one of his closest allies who assisted him in snake farming, Nankorot Ewoi, died 12 days later.

    The burial of his ally made headlines after a wild six-foot-long python slithered into the family compound and went straight to his grave and then later to his house.

    Even as the two remain the fathers of snake farming business in Kenya and who reportedly made millions, recent statements made by Roots Party presidential candidate, George Luchiri Wajackoyah, re-ignited the debate on this unique form of farming.

    Wajackoyah promised to revive snake farming and raise over Ksh84 billion that will be used to repay Kenya's foreign debt.

    At the moment, snake farming is restricted. Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) issues licenses to persons willing to engage in the business.

    Presidential aspirant Prof George Wajackoyah speaks to Nation journalists at his Karen offices on February 17, 2022
    Presidential aspirant Prof George Wajackoyah speaks to Nation journalists at his Karen offices on February 17, 2022
    Daily Nation
    drug poisonous died