NAIROBI, Kenya – Elephants are a treasured asset for many African states, with governments investing millions of dollars to help protect them as they become endangered by alarming rates of hunting.
According to a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) report, there were more than 1.5 million elephants in Africa during the 1980s. Now, in 2015, there are only 400,000.
KWS, a state-run corporation set up to conserve Kenya’s wildlife, says that there are between 30,000 and 35,000 elephants in Kenya.
The East African country has thus witnessed a decrease of more than 70 percent in the number of elephants on its land since 1980.
Kenya values its elephants immensely and goes to great lengths to see that they are protected.
During World Wildlife Day on March 3, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta set ablaze more than 15 tons of elephant tusks to discourage poaching in his country.
For poorer communities in Kenya, however, protecting elephants is far from the top of their agenda, as the endangered animals stray from the wild, invade local homes and wreak havoc on agricultural produce.
These embattled communities have pleaded with the government to protect them from the marauding elephants, threatening to take matters into their own hands and kill the wild animals if the government does not step up its efforts.
Human-wildlife conflict is on the rise in Kenya, with experts warning there is no way elephants and crops can co-exist in peace.
Locals blame the Kenya Wildlife Service for not erecting fences to separate elephants from the locals, meaning they have to share their land.
According to a study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), more than 200 people have been killed by elephants in Kenya over the last seven years.
– ‘They are like bulldozers’
In Kajiado town, tribal Maasai warriors have vowed to camp on a well-known elephant corridor and kill the “notorious” invaders who destroy their farms.
A Maasai man glanced at his farm from atop a hill, pointing to a section of the farm where a whole season’s harvest has been destroyed by marauding elephants.
“You see that,” said Lemaron ole Komeyicin. “They are like bulldozers.”
“They destroy everything in their path: trees, which took years to grow, are felled in an instant; maize fields are destroyed before the plants even mature,” he added.
Komeyicin, 45, spends sleepless nights guarding his farm, afraid that the elephants can trample over his mud hut killing his family.
Every night, he is armed with a drum and a torch, claiming that while drums work more often than not, he uses fire to chase away the elephants if they insist on entering his farm.
– ‘We don’t want to kill them’
Students leaving Enkaroni primary school in Kajiado county rush home before dark to beat the curfew that the elephants have imposed on the people of Enkarani village.
Jane Liloe, a parent to one of the children leaving the primary school, recounted the story of a recent elephant attack on the school.
“The elephants just came out of nowhere,” Liloe told Anadolu Agency. “The watchman, who is my brother-in-law, told me that he felt as if an earthquake was taking place.”
“They burst through the gate, my poor brother-in-law fled for his life,” she continued. “He said that all he could see were huge shadows of what he recognized as elephants.”
“The elephants destroyed the school’s water tanks, rendering thousands of liters of water useless,” she said. “They also felled many trees.”
After the incident, Liloe told Anadolu Agency, hundreds went out onto the streets to demonstrate against the invading animals.
This prompted the Kenya Wildlife Service to kill one “notorious” elephant. But the killing of one elephant did not discourage the others from continuing to wreak havoc.
She confirmed that a group of Maasai warriors have vowed to camp at one of the known elephants corridors where they plan to kill them.
Liloe said that the Maasai people value elephants, and would not kill them without reason, she said.
They know that elephants are endangered and should be protected, she added.
“What we want is for the Kenya Wildlife Service to relocate these elephants,” Lemuanik Mbiraru, a young Maasai man, told Anadolu Agency. “We don’t want to kill them, but we depend on these crops for a living, our animals depend on them.”
“It is only fair that they relocate them [elephants] so that we may be able to live in peace,” Mbiraru added.
– Experts: Local population partially to blame
There used to be an electric fence that controlled the movement of wildlife in the area, but it has long been destroyed either by fallen trees or the elephants themselves.
Iain Douglas Hamilton, an elephant expert and founder of the Save the Elephants charity in Kenya, told Anadolu Agency that the government needs to intervene to ensure that the people of Kajiado Country can live in peace with wildlife.
“Every place needs its own solution. A lot of it involves interacting with the community,” Hamilton said. “The government should go down to the ground and speak to the affected communities so as to know how to help them.”
“One of the solutions that I think would work in such a place is to create a beehive center, which works best with elephants as they fear bees,” he continued.
“The government can also try to put up a fence around somebody’s property rather than to try and create a very long barrier running for many miles,” he said. “Large barriers tend to be destroyed over time.”
Hamilton said his charity has been able to stop cases of human-wildlife conflict in parts of Taita Taveta (southeast) and Samburu (north-central) counties by using bees to deter invading elephants.
“Elephants and crops do not coexist very well together,” he said. “When an area witnesses a lot of elephant damage, then it is necessary to have a barrier to protect the crops – something the government should have implemented a long time ago.”
Hamilton said that in some areas, residents were to blame by encroaching on land set aside for the elephants.
“Man is a very invasive species,” he said. “We do fence off some of the land belonging to the elephants, land that used to be a natural corridor for them. This way, when the animals come back, they invade the houses they find on their corridor.”
Catherine Wambani, regional director for the Kenya Wildlife Service in Central Province, told Anadolu Agency that residents are partially to blame for the conflict.
“Electric fences are quite costly,” she said. “People destroy sections of the fence in search of lands to farm, fire wood and other resources.”
Wambani called on locals to learn to live with wild animals and to aid the Kenya Wildlife Service in protecting the electric fences that have been set up, for their sake as much as the elephants.