Kenya: Human-Wildlife Conflicts Escalate as Drought Persists


Lucy Mkanyika, Kalume Kazungu, Geoffrey Ondieki & Oscar Kakai, The Nation / All Africa

Date Published

Midmorning in Nkaroni village in Samburu East, Pilinka Lekalau, 42, stares at livestock carcasses strewn all over his small traditional homestead. He is devastated.

More than 33 sheep and goats had been killed by wild animals in the night.

The father of four was also attacked by an elephant days earlier and he was lucky to be alive.

“Wild animals are roaming here freely. You hardly walk a kilometre before spotting one or two. Look now, I survived an elephant attack two days ago, and I have lost my livestock,” he says.

Around the manyatta, the helplessness among Lekalau’s family members is visible as they watch their sources of sustenance lying dead.

In a semi-nomadic region where livestock is the largest source of livelihoods — engaging at least 85 percent of the population — the perishing of his livestock brought more devastation on top of the biting hunger, according to Lekalau.

Area Senior Chief Pois Lenabori says the recent attacks are due to a devastating drought in Samburu East, which has seen hungry wild animals raiding human settlements in search of food and water.

In neighbouring Lodungokwe shopping centre, marauding elephants had killed a man less than a week earlier.

More Animals Arriving 

Mr Lenabori says the recent weeks have seen an influx of elephants, buffalos, lions, hyenas that are roaming freely across Samburu East.

“Wild animals are entering homesteads to look for water and food as there is little or none left in the forest because this area is scorched,” the local administrator says.

But it is not only in Samburu that human-wildlife conflicts are increasing; the Sh6 billion, 76-kilometre Turkwel Hydro-Electric Power Plant constructed between 1986 and 1991 by the government through the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA), is now the origin of crocodile invasions and mosquito infestation.

Residents of the remote villages surrounding the dam, which is about two kilometres from the Turkwel Power Station, are crying foul over attacks and killings by crocodiles, which swam in overflowing water from rivers Turkwel and Suam during heavy rains and found their way into dams and shallow wells used to preserve water for use in the dry spells.

More than 3,000 residents of Tipet, Reres, Konoso, Chepkachin, Kudulongole and Riting villages are living in fear following frequent attacks by crocodiles from the dam on River Turkwel, which is next to the power plant. Residents complain that crocodile attacks against livestock are on the rise.

Solomon Amekam, a livestock farmer from Tipeta, says he has lost 30 goats, and asked the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to fence off the water points.

“It is common during the rainy season for crocodiles to make their way to artificial dams and attack animals. We are appealing to the authorities to help us keep the crocodiles at bay with proper fencing,” he says, adding that the reptiles also prey on children drawing water from the dams and rivers.

“Snake attacks are more common in the dry spells,” he adds.

Children Killed 

In Kwale, Lamu, and Kilifi, the script is the same. Wild animals are getting out of their habitats and escalating human-wildlife conflicts.

Last week, two children were mauled to death by hyenas at Baisa village in Kinango, Kwale County. The county has been placed in the alert drought phase by the government because its water sources have dried up, leading to water and food scarcity.

“The only pan in Kishushe, Taita-Taveta County, we share it with elephants. We are forced to go to the water source during the day when elephants have drunk water. Last week, we spent three days without water after the animals camped at the only source of water for days,” says John Maghanga, a Kishushe resident.

John Mwachala, 62, who was born and raised in Mbulia, Taita Taveta County, a village situated at the edge of Tsavo West National Park, says the menace has escalated in the recent past.

He is concerned that his farm has become a grazing field for the elephants that have become defiant to traditional methods of driving them away.

“They no longer fear scarecrows, whistles, bonfires and flashlights. Some come towards the flashlight instead of running away,” he narrates.

Increasing wildlife ravaging villages has led to closure of some schools in Tana River County.

Assa, Wayu, Titila, Idi and Odoganda primary schools have been confirmed closed as a result of drought as children are forced to embark on long trips in search of water.

Assa, a boarding school in Tana Delta has closed and dormitories have been left empty as the children could not cope with the lack of water and poor feeding routine.

School children in Mbololo, Ghazi, Landi, Kajire, Miasenyi, Kisimenyi, Mbulia, Kasigau, Kishushe, Mackinnon Road, Maungu, Marapu and Talio in Taita Taveta report to school late and leave for home early for fear of being attacked by the elephants.

Many Suffering 

According to Kenya Red Cross, Kilifi leads in the region with the number of those facing famine, followed by Kwale, Tana River and Lamu.

The KWS says it has put in place several strategies to try and contain the conflicts across the country. KWS assistant director in charge of Coast Conservation Lilian Ajuoga confirms the drought has caused problem in the region but agency has deployed more officers to contain the wildlife by supplying water and forage to the animals in the park to contain them.

“Animals are out in the conservancies because of drought but we are doing our best to contain the animals by providing water,” says Ajuoga.

Samburu County’s KWS Senior Warden Eric Aduda adds that most pastoralists are encroaching on wildlife corridors in the wake of biting droughts, a move that he notes leads to conflicts in Samburu East.

“Most pastoralists are equally encroaching on wild animals’ corridors and it obviously brings human-wildlife conflicts,” he says, warning that mass migration of elephants and other wild animals may be ongoing due to the drought and that residents should avoid elephant corridors.

Environmental expert Jack Raini says the climate crisis and the abnormal weather that comes along with it does not just affect people only, but it stresses wild animals too.

Recently, the government formally declared drought a national disaster as many people across the arid and semi-arid regions find it difficult to access food, water and pasture for their livestock.

Severe droughts due to inconsistent rainfall, coronavirus and scarce pastures due to the invasion of desert locusts led to severe food insecurity for more than half of the Samburu population, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society.