Snakes are some of the most feared creatures on earth. Biblically, a snake is an enemy to man so-much that it should be condemned to death once humans encounter it.
However, Yasin Kazibwe commonly known as Mr. Cobra is a rare human being- for he has mastered the art of ‘rearing’ snakes and other reptiles.
They (reptiles) are not only his best friends, but they are his source of daily bread.
A number of local and international tourists pay Kazibwe to have a glimpse at a number of reptiles found in his sanctuary that is sited on about four acres.
This reptile village known as the Uganda Reptile Village is located about one and half Kilometres off Entebbe road.
According to Kazibwe, 33, the sanctuary has over 48 species of snakes and other reptiles worth millions of Shillings.
Kazibwe freely interacted with the snakes as he took us around; you could actually be mistaken that they aren’t harmful.
However, to enjoy your stay there, you must keep calm and not make unnecessary noise.
How He Started
Kazibwe’s relationship with snakes dates back in 1998 when he was a young man working with a one Musimenta, who was exporting live snakes to Europe.
At that time he got concerned that Uganda could lose its snakes through that type of trade. But he could do nothing then because he was young.
However, his dream started to blossom when he got close to snake experts while on study leave in neighbouring Tanzania. He met Jackson Erickson, who equipped him with ideas and skills on how to handle reptiles as a source of income and conservation.
“When I came back, I suggested to my boss (Musimenta) that we stop selling snakes to Europe, but save more by having them breed locally and return most of them to where we used to trap them as a way of avoiding rare species extinction and balancing the ecosystem,” he recalls.
However, his boss wasn’t impressed with the idea, something that paved way for Kazibwe’s resignation.
In 2003, together with 19 youths, he registered Uganda Reptile Village as a Community Based Organisation (CBO) that is regulated byUganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
He adds that Bununu (where the reptile village is located)wasa habitat zone for snakes which were being killedregularly.
“We discovered some time back that in every less than one kilometre, you could find a dead snake. I had a passion for snakes and I contacted Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to allow me conserve them,” Kazibwe says.
He reveals that the facility has several species of snakes like Squamata, Suborder (Serpent), Gabon Viper, Cobra, Python, Path Finder, Olive Sand Snake and Branding Tree Snake among others.
The facility is also a home of other reptiles like the 118 year old Tortoise, Crocodiles and Chameleons among others.
He says he literally started business with Sh500 which he used to buy a pen and papers where he wrote his project idea, its mission and objectives. He also bought a jerry can of water to cater for his young reptiles that he was keeping in tins.
It was his well-written idea that got a loan (declines to reveal the amount) from Wild Frontiers, where he was working then.
Kazibwe and Michael Bakiddawo, the Reptile Village Manager admit that the Reptile Village attracts reasonable figures of tourists from Uganda and other parts of the world and so is the reasonable amount of money they earn although they are unwilling to reveal the figures.
Business Focus understands that the Reptile Village can receive over 100 visitors during weekends and over 20 visitors every day.
They also get groups of people visiting the sanctuary including schools.
According to Bakiddawo, the entry fee for non-East African residents is Shs15, 000 for adults and Shs10, 000 for the children, while East African residents pay Shs10, 000 and Shs5, 000 for adults and childrenrespectively.
Ugandans pay Shs5, 000 and Shs3, 000 for adults and children respectively to have a glance at the reptiles.
The facility also has other income generating activities like fishing,Canoe cruising, bird watching from their man made River Kazibwe (namedafter him) which is about 3km stretch from Lake Victoria.
“Fishing goes for Shs20, 000, pedal cruising goes for Ushs2, 000, whilebird watching is for free,” he explained.
Apart from meeting prominent people like Microsoft Founder Bill Gates, Kabaka among others, Kazibwe is proud to have saved close to 200 different species of snakes that are now safe in their natural habitat.
“When we rescue the snakes from the people, many give birth and thenwe release them into the game reserves and we retain the mothers,” heexplained.
Kazibwehas also received donations in form of equipment like cages andtraining from Sweden and a network of friends across the world, who in turn publicizes his facility free of charge.
He has also led the sensitization drive of conserving snakes and other reptiles.
One of the challenges they are facing is changing people’s perceptions; making them believe that naturally the snake is not a as dangerous as they think.
Regardless of their sensitization programs, a number of people still think that snakes are quite dangerous species.
Kazibwe says that that swamps, rivers, forests and other habitat places for snakes are increasingly being destroyed in the name of development.
“These are the habitat places for these reptiles; they are being destroyed so they have no home and they may end up getting intopeople’s houses,” he says.
They are planning to expand the facility to create more space forother reptiles already in the facility like tortoise.
They are also equipping the medical facility to cater for those bitten by snakes.
“People have come rushing here thinking that we provide treatment forsnake bites, we have donors we are in touch with in Sweden and they are going to provide us with the anti-venom medicines and other medical support,” Bakiddawo said
They also plan to construct restrooms for the visitors who wish tostay behind.
Kazibwe advises the youth to stop judging jobs and work diligently.