From the 22nd of April until the 7th of May 2023

For some time Kenya has been on my radar as it is a highly diverse country. From the vast dry plains in the north to the lush jungles of the southwest, and from the isolated mountain ranges in the central part of the country to the humid coastal region, this country is home to many iconic species. Many of those are endemics and only to be found here, others are more widespread, but are just more readily observed in Kenya. One of my main targets was the Pancake Tortoise along with a whole range of chameleons and snakes. When I came across Atheris Adventures via my Israeli friends I started looking for flights. The flights turned out to be pretty cheap and from the first contact with Mirthe from Atheris Adventures I immediately got excited. So my flights were quickly booked! With Mirthe I discussed lengthily about our itinerary and ultimately we decided to try and find all three endemic vipers along with a whole range of interesting chameleons. We even included an attempt to try and find the enigmatic and endangered Pancake Tortoises, my main target! My friends David Broek, Jelmer Groen, Rick Middelbos and Sander Schagen also joined so we had a super motivated team of experienced herpers.

During our time in Kenya we got lucky with the weather in most places. We chose to go in the rainy season as this usually delivers the best results for the lowland areas. And despite a three year drought, the rains arrived shortly before our arrival. Most places we visited were lush green and animals were out and about. The highlands however (such as Mount Kenya and Naivasha) were difficult. Here the cloud cover in combination with the rains didn't provide us with the most ideal circumstances for herping. But as usual, you have to keep on trying and make meters and that is exactly what we did!

Plates of pancakes indicating the places we visited during our trip.
Plates of pancakes indicating the places we visited during our trip.
Team pancake from left to right: Jelmer, Mirthe, me, Rick, Ferry, Sander, Titus and David.
Team pancake from left to right: Jelmer, Mirthe, me, Rick, Ferry, Sander, Titus and David.


22nd of April 2023

In the afternoon we met on Schiphol Airport from where we flew to Nairobi. We had a flight without delay and also upon arrival things went pretty smoothly. Titus was already waiting for us outside the terminal and brought us to our accommodation. Of course we couldn't resist having a small stroll over the premises and found several Northern Clawed Frogs (Xenopus borealis), Tropical House Geckos (Hemidactylus mabouia), an unidentified terrapin which escaped and David found a nice High-casqued Chameleon (Trioceros hoehnelii). Well past midnight we were in bed. 

Lake Baringo

23rd until the 25th of April 2023

In the early morning Mirthe and Ferry joined the team and we drove north to Lake Baringo. Along the road we found the vegetation surprisingly lush and much to our surprise we found many tortoises out and about such as Bell's Hinge-backed Tortoises (Kinixys belliana) and some very impressive Leopard Tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis). Rick also spotted a Kenya Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus keniensis) on a concrete pole. In the late afternoon we arrived at the shores of the lake and were immediately struck by the rich birdlife with African Darter (Anhinga rufa), Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) and African Jacana (Actophilornis africanus) present at the starting point of our hike. We also saw our first Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) before we moved a bit further inland to try and find our main target here. We didn't see any vipers despite the promising conditions, but we did see two Common African Toads (Sclerophrys regularis) and some more Leopard Tortoises securing the next generation with a family of Ostriches (Struthio camelus) in the background. The male Ostrich was doing some interesting behaviour where his willy came out before taking a dump, and then defecating all over his male appendage. We like to coin the term Pikstruizen for this behaviour. Before nightfall we got on a boat to bring us to our fabulous accommodation. The wind picked up, thunder came rolling in and we were on a small boat in a lake full of hippos and crocodiles just a day after we arrived. Bliss! After dinner we explored our seemingly private island for snake activity. We immediately saw many East African House Geckos (Hemidactylus angulatus) and we had to take care where to step because of the millipedes. I have never seen so many in my life! The Five-lined Skinks (Trachylepis quinquetaeniata) were seemingly nocturnal on the island and not before long Ferry found the first snake: a Common Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra). My snake find was a bit less impressive, but the Hook-snouted Worm Snake (Myriopholis macrorhyncha) ast least represents a new record for the island. After thinking we hit a bit of a dry spell Ferry found a Red Spitting Cobra (Naja pallida) which had us puzzled, it looked very different from what we had expected. But it was a beautiful snake all the same and getting spat on by your first spitting cobra is always exciting. A great ending of our first day in Kenya!

The next morning we went by boat to the mainland to try a different section of the lakeshore. During breakfast we spotted the first Mann's Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus manni) and baby Nile Monitor Lizards (Varanus niloticus) were basking on the rocks. At the shore there was a beautiful Speckled Sand Snake (Psammophis punctulatus) waiting for us in a tree. Turning stones delivered some tiny Lanza's Half-toed Geckos (Hemidactylus lanzai) and not for long until I found what we came for: a beautiful Egyptian Saw-scaled Viper (Echis pyramidum). They turned out to be pretty common and we found close to 20 individuals. So weird that we didn't find any the day before! In the afternoon we did some birdwatching and Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) spotting on the lake before we returned to our island for lunch and a swim. The second evening didn't yield many exciting finds but I found another Myriopholis macrorhyncha and a Natal Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus natalensis).


25th and 26th of April 2023

We didn't have much time to find our main target here. Reliable sightings of Kenya Horned Viper are few and far between, so we decided to not spend so much time around Naivasha to have more time for other species. Moreover, we also wanted to find one ourselves. There is a lot of poaching going on for these vipers and people are known to have these snakes in boxes at home when there is some demand from foreigners. We didn't want to encourage this, so we searched extensively in natural habitat. Our first search site was a rather special place. Between the Grants Zebra (Equus quagga), Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), Dik-Dik (Madoqua kirkii) and Eland Antilope (Tragelaphus oryx) we hiked towards a rocky hill with dense grass and a multitude of stones. Not an easy place for herping and we only saw the occasional skink. Just before a big rainshower drove us down the hill, Ferry spotted a Senegal Running Frog (Kassina senegalensis) and on the way back David found the tiniest Side-striped Chameleon (Trioceros bitaeniatus) hiding in a bush. After a fabulous dinner at Mirthe's home we drove to another place,. Also there the rain caught up with us and we could only search shortly. We did see more Trioceros bitaeniatus babies, gravid Trioceros hoehnelii females and a small Brown House Snake (Boaedon fuliginosus). The latter was found by the friendly American family where we took shelter from the rain.

The next morning we returned there to do a dedicated search, but despite the weather being on our side this time we were not in luck. We only found a Gallmann's Sand Frog (Tomopterna gallmanni) and Nile Grass Frog (Ptychadena nilotica). We admitted defeat and moved on the next location.

Mount Kenya

26th until the 29th of April 2023

The drive to Mount Kenya was long, but we arrived before darkness. Just when we were about to set up camp in the forest a massive thunder storm rolled in and with it came the rain. Luckily we could sleep at the house of local people who had a few rooms available. Here we had dinner and when the rain stopped we moved into the forest. I found a female Mount Kenya Hornless Chameleon (Kinyongia excubitor) while Ferry found a female Jackson's Chameleon (Trioceros jacksoni).

We slept comfortably on our mats in the tiny rooms, but I woke up feeling drained from energy. Barely able to move, feeling feverish and with a killer headache I managed to haul myself in the car. We searched a more intact tract of forest for one of the endemic vipers that live on this isolated mountain. With little energy I joined the group but we had no success. A pond delivered many Mahnert's Grass Frog (Ptychadena mahnerti) and Kenyan Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus keniensis) and we spotted a single Kilimanjaro Forest Forest Lizard (Adolfus kibonotensis) climbing up a tree. But otherwise the forest was eerie quiet. In the afternoon we had a rest back at our rooms and I slept through the afternoon. After some hotdogs we went back into the forest where I could do little else than sleep on a garbage bag on the forest floor. The others found some more chameleons and Silver-bladder Reed Frog (Hyperolius cystocandicans).

The next morning I felt slightly better and we drove up to the higher elevations of Mount Kenya to search for the endemic species there. We had sun in the morning and near a stream we easily found several Mount Kenya Side-striped Chameleon (Trioceros schubotzi). It was absolutely bizarre to see these brightly coloured gems basking in the giant heather vegetation in this harsh landscape. Sadly the weather turned sour once more. While I was resting in the car, the rest of the team had to abort their mission to find Kenya Montane Viper as the rains started to come in heavy. We had lunch at a mountain hut where we could shelter from the rain. Sadly it continued to rain throughout the afternoon, but at lower elevation it was dry luckily. When it got dark we ventured out once more. The keen eye of our local guide was of good help here, and before we knew it we were face-to-face with the biggest target species for most of us. The highly endangered Mount Kenya Bush Viper (Atheris desaixi) is not easy to find and densities seem to be very low. It was an amazing moment to see both a male and female of this species in the wild. But that was not all as a Meru Tree Snake (Thrasops schmidti) was also on the menu for the evening. And with that we could conclude our time on Mount Kenya on a happy note, despite the heavy rains and me being so drained from energy.

Kitui County

29th of April until the 1st of May 2023

Immediately when we arrived in Kitui County, the highlights just kept pouring in. It started with our first White-throated Monitor Lizard (Varanus albigularis) crossing the street. We set up camp just outside a small school building in a rural area and inside it a brightly coloured Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus) was crawling around. A small stroll in the afternoon delived also what we came for and of course it was Ferry who found our first Pancake Tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri). Simply amazing creatures who are well adapted to life in and around rocky cracks in which they hide. Their carapax is soft to be able to squeeze in the narrowest cracks and their legs are highly mobile. They even have very flexible hands and feet to be able to grab rocky ledges and climb the steepest surfaces. I knew these tortoises would be cool, but I simply fell in love. The next day we ventured deeper into the study area of Jacob Mueti Ngwava who has been studying these tortoises for several years and who was so kind as to show us around. Thanks to his expertise, we found several more Pancake Tortoises and even two individuals hidden in a crack together with a Puff Adder (Bitis arietans). Two more Puff Adders were hiding in nearby between the big boulders and these massive individuals were a sight to behold. Lizards were also in no short supply and we saw Tsavo Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus tsavoensis), Sundevall's Writhing Skink (Mochlus sundevalli), Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer), Southern Long-tailed Lizard (Latastia longicaudata) and Speke's Sand Lizard (Heliobolus spekii). In the evenings we also went out of course and saw Wamba Sand Frog (Tomopterna wambensis), Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia), Tree Gecko (Hemidactylus platycephalus), Nyika Half-toed Gecko (Hemidactylus squamulatus), Short-necked Skink (Trachylepis brevicollis) and when I spotted another Speckled Sand Snake, Sander spotted a Graceful Chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis) in the neighbouring bush.

I simply loved our time in this part of the country and could have easily spent some more time here. But new herping grounds were waiting for us. A big thanks to Jacob for showing us the amazing Pancake Tortoises and I hope to meet you again!

Tsavo West

1st until the 3rd of May 2023

In Tsavo we stayed in a remote lodge where we had comfortable rooms and thoroughly enjoyed having a shower after five days in the bush. Just behind our accommodation was a big dam where many frogs felt right at home. Thousands of Water Lily Reed Frogs (Hyperolius pusillus) were filling the air with their song, but also Delicate Spiny Reed Frog (Afrixalus delicatus), Somali Running Frog (Kassina somalica) and Mozambique Grass Frog (Ptychadena mossambica) were present and trying to rise above the sound of the Reed Frogs. Neumann's Helmeted Terrapins (Pelomedusa neumanni) were hunting for frogs in the shallows. The roadcruising here was also very exciting because other than some very iconic snakes, there are all sorts of mammals to be found as well. Like on our first night when we spotted a Red Spitting Cobra (Naja pallida) crossing the road and just moments later we watched two Honey Badgers (Mellivora capensis) foraging. The second night we had the same and again we could combine a Red Spitting Cobra with an exciting mammal, a Serval (Leptailurus serval) this time. Sadly both carnivores were very shy, much like all other mammals we saw in Tsavo so we couldn't photograph them. Luckily the cobras were much more obliging as well as the sleeping Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) we spotted, moments after I jokingly said how cool it would be to spot a sleeping Secretary Bird. During the day we drove around to spot bigger wildlife such as Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), Elephant (Loxodonta africana), Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri), Grants Gazelle (Nanger granti), East African Oryx (Oryx beisa), Eland Antilope (Taurotragus oryx) and much more. Much to our excitement we also saw another Ostrich shit all over his penis. In some places we could search by foot and again Ferry worked his magic. First by finding a beautiful greenish Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) and on the last morning a Boomslang (Dispholidus typus). Both snakes were so calm despite their bad reputation and it was great to admire both of them in their natural habitat. Even local ranger Gertrude who was afraid of snakes walked in on a snake, and probably the rarest of them all. She stumbled upon a Beautiful Sand Snake (Psammophis pulcher), a species of which only a handful of sightings exist.


3rd until the 6th of May 2023

We arrived in the evening and immediately noticed the different climate at the coast. Hot and humid, even at night, with many mosquitos flying around. We first had dinner at the Lichthaus, a posh establishment with an interesting array of people walking around. We didn't know where to look... We had to leave quickly or we would not have gone herping anymore and we still had one chameleon species left to see! During our night searches we found several amphibians such as Senegal Running Frog (Kassina senegalensis), Southern Foam-nest Frog (Chiromantis xerampelina), Tinker Reed Frog (Hyperolius tuberilinguis), Uniform Tree Frog (Leptopelis concolor) and Guttural Toad (Sclerophrys gutturalis). We found several freshly hatched Flap-necked Chameleons (Chamaeleo dilepis) but also one big adult. In leaflitter we found the tiny Kenyan Coastal Half-toed Gecko (Hemidactylus barbouri) and resting in the vegetation a Speckled Green Snake (Philothamnus punctatus). But those pygmy chameleons were nowhere to be found...

The next day it was time to say goodbye to Mirthe and Titus who would be heading back to Nairobi and from there Naivasha. We went into the Arabuko-Sokoke NP to try and see an endangered mammal we all had on our wishlist. It didn't take us long until we found several Golden-rumped Elephant Shrews (Rhynchocyon chrysopygus) running around in the dense undergrowth of the forest. Such fantastic creatures, but really tricky to photograph as they rarely sit still. In the forest we also walked past not one, but three Usambara Vine Snakes (Thelotornis usambaricus). Luckily for us we had Ferry with us to point them out, as we all walked past them! Another highlight was also hiding deep in the dense undergrowth and a pair of the range-restricted and endangered Sokoke Scops Owl (Otus ireneae) were watching us. When a massive downpour drove us out of the forest we headed back to the lodge. When it was dry in the afternoon we explored the mangroves a bit before dinner. 

We all felt like some relaxation was long overdue, so the next day we searched for marine wildlife and had a lovely boat trip on the Indian Ocean. We snorkeled in the Watamu Marine NP and found a whole range of colourful coral fish. From the boat we could also observe a single Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and several Blacktip Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus), but due to their shy nature we could not observe those while snorkeling. Another boat ride brought us to a small uninhabited island full of Coral Rag Skinks (Cryptoblepharus africanus). Completely sunburnt we arrived back at the lodge and explored the surrounding area a bit more without success. We did get an invitation to a party thrown by our girl nextdoor. Unfortunately we could not lend her a helping hand with making the salad dressing as we wanted to have an early dinner. Moreover, I had an appointment at a local barbershop for a very extensive shave at my severely burnt head, much to the amusement of the local people. But we promised our neighbour we would come by the next day.

On our last day we still had two major targets left open so it was time to focus. In the morning we set out in a very dense forest where Ferry had seen Green Mambas (Dendroaspis angusticeps) before. It didn't take Ferry long before he spotted one and vanished into the bush chasing the snake. Incredible how fast these snakes (and Ferry!) are, but also how calm their demeanor is. During photography the mamba didn't attempt to bite once and always observed us placidly from its bush. After this great experience we explored the tidal mud flats and adjacent mangroves for Crab-plover (Dromas ardeola), Barred Mudskipper (Periophthalmus argentilineatus) and different species of Fiddler Crab. We left the mud flats right on time, as the tide comes in quickly here and at every step the rising water was licking at our heels. For our last evening we opted for dinner at the fancy Lichthaus once more and again marvelled at all that was happening around us. We had a hard time leaving, but there was still a certain pygmy chameleon waiting for us in the bush. After I finished photographing a Link-marked Sand Snake (Psammophis biseriatus) I found resting in the vegetation, I searched on a bit more until the others called me back to identify a snake. A bit grumpy I turned around as I really wanted to search on for these damn pygmy chameleons. But when I arrived at the group I couldn't believe my eyes as I was looking at a Kenya Pygmy Chameleon (Rieppeleon kerstenii)! Jelmer finally found one! And he also managed to got me back with my own joke, after I told him I found a cool caterpillar when I found a Splendid Webfoot Salamander two years ago in Costa Rica. The universe was in balance again and we couldn't have been happier to get this species on our last night here. Incredible how hard it is to find these in comparison to many other pygmy chameleon species though. On the way back Rick spotted a tiny East African Shovel-snout (Prosymna stuhlmanni) just before we arrived back at the lodge. And then it was also time to say goodbye to Bwana Nyoka, master snake spotter and new friend Ferry. As he went for his well deserved holidays with his family, we went to the after party from our neighbour where some of us made it a bit later than others.

Nairobi NP

7th of May 2023

An early morning flight brought us from Malindi back to Nairobi. The flight went very smooth and Titus was waiting for us outside the terminal. We drove into Nairobi NP where we marvelled at the plentiful wildlife. We saw African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Giraffe, Impala, Eland Antilope, Hartenbeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), Zebra and we had excellent views of White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) and Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis). Around waterholes we saw Hippo and Nile Crocodiles and just when we were leaving the park a small Southern African Rock Python (Python natalensis) was crossing the road. Sadly it is not allowed to exit the vehicle so we had to make do with a quick glimpse. In the late afternoon we met up with Robin Backhouse. We didn't see any male Jackson's Chameleon yet, but Robin knew the right place. In the garden of a home for the elderly there is a good spot for this species and he had arranged that the owner would keep an eye out for them. When we arrived he had already found two, a nice female and a small male which were both lovely to see. Thanks a lot for arranging this Robin and it was nice to meet you!

We had dinner nearby and then it was also time to say goodbye to Titus who was the best driver we could wish for. Fast, safe and never tiring of us shouting to stop for an interesting bird or mammal from the backseat. A midnight flight brought us from Nairobi back to Amsterdam where Rick had to catch the train to teach, and the rest of the team could take a more relaxed approach after an intensive, but highly rewarding two weeks in Kenya. 


Herping in Kenya was in many prospects a breath of fresh air. The roads were almost everywhere in great shape. We could make excellent progress on every trip and didn't experience any traffic jams. Local people were friendly wherever we went, always keen to help or just pleasantly uninterested. The organization by Mirthe was immaculate and nothing was left to chance. She was open to a lot of new ideas in regard to the itinerary and together we set an ambitious and highly diverse route through the country. The food was tasty and plentiful and I rarely eat that well on herping trips. Titus was the best driver we could wish for, driving fast, safe and always optimistic. And without Ferry we would have never seen so many different species of snake. His skill in the field is unrivalled, managing to spot the most hidden snakes and also being able to catch them. Never tiring and always trying to find more animals. Our trip with Atheris Adventures was a delight and I can only recommend. We arrived as clients and left as friends and I certainly hope to be back some day!


Northern Clawed Frog (Xenopus borealis)

Garman's Toad (Sclerophrys garmani)

Guttural Toad (Sclerophrys gutturalis)

Common African Toads (Sclerophrys regularis)

Senegal Running Frog (Kassina senegalensis)

Somali Running Frog (Kassina somalica)

Delicate Spiny Reed Frog (Afrixalus delicatus)

Southern Foam-nest Frog (Chiromantis xerampelina)

Silver-bladder Reed Frog (Hyperolius cystocandicans)

Water Lily Reed Frog (Hyperolius pusillus)

Tinker Reed Frog (Hyperolius tuberilinguis)

Uniform Tree Frog (Leptopelis concolor)

Kenyan Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus keniensis)

Natal Puddle Frog (Phrynobatrachus natalensis)

Plain Grass Frog (Ptychadena anchietae)

Mahnert's Grass Frog (Ptychadena mahnerti)

Nile Grass Frog (Ptychadena nilotica)

Gallmann's Sand Frog (Tomopterna gallmanni)

Wamba Sand Frog (Tomopterna wambensis)

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Neumann's Helmeted Terrapin (Pelomedusa neumanni)

Bell's Hinge-backed Tortoise (Kinixys belliana)

Pancake Tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri)

Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)

East African House Gecko (Hemidactylus angulatus)

Kenyan Coastal Half-toed Gecko (Hemidactylus barbouri)

Lanza's Half-toed Gecko (Hemidactylus lanzai)

Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia)

Tree Gecko (Hemidactylus platycephalus)

Nyika Half-toed Gecko (Hemidactylus squamulatus)

Kenya Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus keniensis)

Mann's Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus manni)

White-headed Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus mombasicus)

Tsavo Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus tsavoensis)

Coral Rag Skink (Cryptoblepharus africanus)

Sundevall's Writhing Skink (Mochlus sundevalli)

Short-necked Skink (Trachylepis brevicollis)

Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia)

Rainbow Skink (Trachylepis margaritifer)

Five-lined Skink (Trachylepis quinquetaeniata)

Striped Skink (Trachylepis striata)

Mount Kenya Alpine-meadow Lizard (Adolfus alleni)

Kilimanjaro Forest Forest Lizard (Adolfus kibonotensis)

Southern Long-tailed Lizard (Latastia longicaudata)

Speke's Sand Lizard (Heliobolus spekii)

Kenya Red-headed Rock Agama (Agama lionotus)

Kenya Pygmy Chameleon (Rieppeleon kerstenii)

Flap-necked Chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis)

Graceful Chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis)

Mount Kenya Hornless Chameleon (Kinyongia excubitor)

Side-striped Chameleon (Trioceros bitaeniatus)

High-casqued Chameleon (Trioceros hoehnelii)

Jackson's Chameleon (Trioceros jacksoni)

Mount Kenya Side-striped Chameleon (Trioceros schubotzi)

White-throated Monitor Lizard (Varanus albigularis)

Nile Monitor Lizard (Varanus niloticus)

Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)

Hook-snouted Worm Snake (Myriopholis macrorhyncha)

Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus)

Southern African Rock Python (Python natalensis)

Brown House Snake (Boaedon fuliginosus)

East African Shovel-snout (Prosymna stuhlmanni)

Beautiful Sand Snake (Psammophis pulcher)

Speckled Sand Snake (Psammophis punctulatus)

Link-marked Sand Snake (Psammophis biseriatus)

Speckled Green Snake (Philothamnus punctatus)

Meru Tree Snake (Thrasops schmidti)

Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)

Usambara Vine Snake (Thelotornis usambaricus)

Common Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra)

Red Spitting Cobra (Naja pallida)

Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps)

Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)

Mount Kenya Bush Viper (Atheris desaixi)

Puff Adder (Bitis arietans)

Egyptian Saw-scaled Viper (Echis pyramidum)


Many thanks to Matthieu Berroneau and Stephen Spawls.