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Residents living next to Imenti forest have reason to smile as the construction of a fence to deter straying elephants progresses in the area.
Rhino Ark has reported that the Imenti Forest, part of Mount Kenya Ecosystem, hosts the highest density of elephants out of the 2,600 elephants recorded in Mt Kenya National Park and forest reserve.
The high elephant population at Imenti had resulted in intense human-elephant conflict.
Mount Kenya Ecosystem Senior Warden Gideon Kebati said the fence had considerably reduced human-wildlife conflict. He said Rhino Ark’s fencing project, which targets to cover 450 kilometres around human-wildlife conflict hotspots, had enhanced conservation of the ecosystem and led to a reduction of compensation claims.
With the money raised through Rhino Charge, a charitable event to raise funds for conservation, only about 200 kilometres are yet to be fenced. “We have fenced 246km out of the 450km,” said Kebati.
The galvanised fence includes a tight-lock fence to ensure even burrowing animals do not get out of the protected area. It costs Sh3 million to fence one kilometre.
Residents in areas neighbouring Mt Kenya Forest have benefited from the fence because the frequency at which elephants used to raid their farms had reduced.
“The value of land has appreciated as a result of reduction of human-wildlife conflict. We also have a cordial relationship with surrounding communities,” said Kebati, adding that the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) had contributed to fencing by buying some of the materials.
However, he urged the community to secure the fence line. “We have vandalism and theft of fencing materials.”
Rhino Ark’s Fence and Community Management Officer Adam Mwangi said they had to employ locals to monitor the fence, to prevent anybody from accessing the forest, and animals from getting out.
The 157 individuals manning the electric fence are tasked with ensuring the fence has the right voltage to deter the elephants from getting out of the forest and into farms.
“Between 2014 and 2016, 11 people (around Imenti forest) were killed by elephants. In retaliation, some elephants were killed by locals. The people requested our help to put a fence,” said Mwangi. But undeterred, the elephants have learnt to exit the forest through the highway cutting through the Imenti forest.
As a result, Mwangi said the organisation has proposed to build a Sh25 million underpass to enable the elephants to move from the upper to lower Imenti forests.
“We have had incidences of motorists knocking down elephants on the Meru-Nanyuki road. We aim to build an underpass once we get the funds,” he said.
Rhino Ark has partnered with the Elephant Conservation Society and Elephant Corporation (both from the US) to install elephant grids across the tarmac roads at Kithoka and Ruiri.
The grids are barriers to prevent elephants from exiting the forest while allowing free human and vehicle movement.
John Andati, Civil Works, Buildings and Fence officer at KWS, said the fence is strong enough to deter the elephants.