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Residents of Laikipia County have decried increasing cases of human–wildlife conflict with attacks by the animals leaving behind a trail of death and destruction.
So dire is the situation that incidents of people being mauled by a hyena or a lion or trampled to death by an elephant are almost the new norm with the helpless villagers resigned to their fate.
For 71-year-old Benson Ngure and his wife Margaret Wambui, 56, this sad reality hit home when their son’s life was cruelly cut short after he was mauled by a hyena on February 4, 2019.
The 11-year-old, a Class Two pupil at Mwireri Primary School, was in the living room getting ready for school when he was attacked by two hyenas. His cries for help alerted his father who rushed out carrying a stick as he thought it was only a stray dog, only to find the beasts mauling his son.
The elderly man bravely fought off the animals as one of the hyenas attacked his wife who was in the kitchen preparing breakfast together with their other son.
The woman passed out after sustaining severe injuries while Mzee Ngure was bitten on his hand. Their cries for help attracted neighbours who responded armed with machetes, axes and other weapons but it was too late as the beasts had already devoured the boy. They managed to kill one hyena while the other escaped.
“I was a very hard-working person. I used to buy and sell charcoal using my bicycle. In a day I could make over Sh1,000. Now I cannot do anything because the beast devoured my hand as I struggled to save my son,” Mzee Ngure recalls, pain written all over his face. “I can no longer ride my bicycle or do other jobs to feed my family. My wife is also disabled,” he says.
According to Mzee Ngure, they have now been left at the mercy of benevolent residents who are also struggling to make ends meet.
“Our children had to drop out of school as we could not manage to pay their fees. We also had to stop treatment before our scars were fully healed as we couldn’t afford the medical expenses,” he adds.
The couple’s only hope now is the Sh5 million payout promised by the government as compensation for losing their son.
The payout has, however, remained elusive one year down the line even after providing all the required documents and filling in the necessary forms.
“They promised us Sh5 million as compensation but we are yet to get it. We need justice because it was their negligence which caused the beasts to attack my family in our home,” Mzee Ngure says.
Mzee Ngure’s case is one example of the woes facing thousands of households in Laikipia with the rising cases of human-wildlife conflict instilling fear among the residents.
Last December, a middle-aged woman died after she was trampled on by an elephant in Ol Arabei forest on the border between Laikipia and Baringo counties. Stella Chebii, 36, was herding her livestock when she encountered the elephant, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Also in December, a man identified as Rono Kipkurui was mauled to death by a lion near the Nairobi National Park. The incidents have put the KWS on the spot with the agency being accused of laxity in controlling wildlife.
Various pledges by the government, including putting up electric fences around game parks and reserves, have remained unfulfilled.
It is now common to see wildlife roaming freely even in residential areas, much to the horror of residents. The KWS officer in charge of Laikipia West, Mr Mohammed Madela, attributed the increase in cases of human-wildlife conflict to a fire which broke out at Laikipia Nature Conservancy.
Speaking when he visited a victim at the Nyahururu County Hospital, Mr Madela said wild animals from the conservancy had fled from the park to escape the fire.
“The wild animals have taken refuge in Lariak Forest, just a kilometre away from human settlements,” he said.
Despite being promised millions as compensation, most of the victims are yet to be paid.
Wildlife and Tourism Principal Secretary Fred Segor told the Nation in a telephone interview that the process of compensating the victims is under way even as he confirmed that there were thousands of cases of people who have fallen victim to attacks by wildlife.
“There are over 7,000 cases which we are dealing with at the moment to verify their authenticity and proceed with compensation,” he said.
Dr Segor revealed that the county committee tasked with verifying compensation claims has already received the necessary training meant to ascertain the identities of the victims, draft the budget and present it to the national government for payment.
“It has been a rigorous process and we are set to release Sh2 billion for people who were affected between 2014 and 2019. We started with the old cases, moving to the recent ones. Money for compensating the victims is usually released according to the amount allocated by the national budget,” Dr Segor said.
“In accordance with the Wildlife Act 2013, the amount of compensation for loss of life is Sh5 million, disability is Sh3 million while victims who get other injuries are supposed to get Sh2 million,” he added.
However, the victims will have to wait for a little longer with the officer estimating that the process might take as many as 20 months in order to give enough time to the county task force to complete verification.
“The county task force has already undergone training. We train them on how to assess the cases in order to ascertain the credibility because some people may lie just to pocket the money. By my estimation, by the end of 2021 all the victims should have been compensated,” he said.