In the wake of depressed business in the country’s tourism sector following insecurity concerns, Oldoiyo Lengai Hotel in Nyeri is banking on eco-tourism to boost its income.
The hotel, which is located in Karatina, has started a reptile village in a bid to attract a wider variety of clients, especially young people.
Moses Macharia, the hotel owner, is rearing crocodiles, turtles and tortoises and charging visitors just Sh100 to view them — supplementing the income he makes from the mainstay hospitality business.
“We have partnered with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) who have been advising us on how best to take care of the reptiles and how to keep everybody safe in this environment,” Mr Macharia told Enterprise.
The KWS captured three crocodiles in Sagana River in 2015 after residents complained of the danger they posed to their lives whenever they went to draw water.
Mr Macharia had applied and received a licence to farm the animals as a tourist attraction. KWS delivered them for free.
The reptiles, each measures about four feet and is expected to grow to 10 feet, are now housed in a cage at the hotel compound where visitors can view them.
The animals get sick from time to time. Some of the diseases are similar to those that attack chicken and arise mainly from stress due to bad management. “We feed them on a chicken each once per week which was surprising to us. They do not eat much during the cold season” said Mr Macharia.
“We update KWS on their condition quarterly, they inspect them for health and safety.”
Mr Macharia said their main clientele are students and families who visit the hotel over weekends. The peak season is during holidays when the business rakes in about Sh25,000 from the animals on show.
Esther Kiangi, a Karatina resident, said she can view crocodiles without having to travel to Mombasa or Nairobi where there are several farms. “I had never set eyes on a crocodile other than on television. I always thought the Mount Kenya area was too cold to host them but now I see that it is possible,” she said.
Karatina’s temperature ranges between 15 and 20 degrees centigrade.
Crocodiles are cold-blooded animals, which makes them extremely sensitive to temperature changes. A 3°C variance in their body temperature can slow their metabolism by half, hampering their ability to absorb food and grow.
Crocodile farming is catching on in Kenya, especially as a tourist attraction.
There were 21 crocodile farmers in the country as at the end of last year, and a further 60 had applied to the KWS for licences.
This increased interest is as a result of higher demand for crocodile meat in China, and rising domestic sales to restaurants, especially upmarket tourist hotels.
The crocodile farming sector growsat 22 per cent per year across Africa, according to industry estimates.
South Africa leads the pack, with total exports valued at about $73 million (Sh7.5 billion) per year.
It is followed by Zambia $65 million (Sh6.7 billion), Kenya $62 million (Sh6.4 billion, and Zimbabwe $30 million (Sh3.09 billion).