Kenyan Wildlife Reserve Invaded


Melissa Maclean, The Houghton Star

Date Published

Last week, over 30,000 cattle flooded the conserved plains of
Laikipia, Kenya, as armed semi-nomadic pastoralists stormed tourist
huts and grazing fields.

In early January, around 10,000 nomadic herders took their first
attempt to drive their cattle into the settled land. However, the big
hit came last week when herders returned with spears and automatic
weapons, which they used to burn down huts, and slaughter animals on
the way.

Laikipia, a Kenyan county planted northeast of the Great Rift Valley,
is home to conservancies, private properties, and endangered wildlife.

Tensions between pastoralists and settlers are nothing new to the
Kenyan county. However, some hold the belief that the invasions are
thought to be a direct result of a drought that Laikpia experienced
last year.

This is the perspective of Matthew Lempurkel, Laikipia’s North MP.
“People are struggling over the available water and pasture for their
livestock, which is our livelihood,” he reported in Kenya’s The Star
this week. Pastoralists depend upon fertile grazing fields for their
livestock’s survival, and when water becomes scarce, grass becomes
scarce as well. According to Kenyan cabinet secretary, Mwangi
Kiunjuri, it was expected that 1.3 million Kenyans would be affected
by the drought. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA)
confirmed this estimate, and added that the Samburu and Pokot
communities were among the most vulnerable, which is where the
invading herders come from.

However, after the attacks this week, some are starting to believe in
an underlying motive. In 2008, Kenya experienced a violent political
episode between the current president, Mwai Kibaki, and the opposed
candidate, Taila Odinga. One of the landowners believes that this
invasion is a result of the political tension spilling over. “This was
all planned years ago, and is designed to peak in the run-up to the
elections…Votes in exchange for grass and land grabs, the seizure of
Laikipia by outsiders and the expulsion of rival tribes, ranchers and

Another issue that the settlers are taking with this case is the
indiscriminate killing of wildlife. According to reports, the herders
have gone so far as to kill animals from Big Five, including six
African elephants, lions, decapitated zebras, and even household dogs.

“Twenty years of time, effort, sweat, money… it’s fallen apart in two
weeks, destroyed,” says conservation manager, Josh Perrett.

“Before, you would see elephant, a few hundred head of buffalo,
Jackson’s hartebeest, oryx, Grant’s gazelle, impala. Now you see
thousands of head of cattle, a lot of sheep and goats.”

One of the larger wildlife conservancies, who depends on donor funds
to safeguard its wildlife, has already canceled a $5 million
investment due to fears about the future of its wildlife. Another
sanctuary for the endangered black rhino is also under serious threat.

On the other side, Max Graham, CEO of Space For Giants, attempted to
explain these killings in a statement he gave last week. He
said,“First, the herders are coming into conflict with elephants at
water points, and shooting at them to scare them away. Second, some of
these herders now in Laikipia, but not indigenous to the area, are
traditionally hunters: to kill an elephant is a rite of passage in
their culture.”

However, despite the relocation and devastation to wildlife, residents
are also being injured in the process, including one death reported
last week.

President Kenyatta has since ordered all invading herdsmen to leave
the Laikipia area, but the government has yet to successfully halt the