Tales of Courage: I nearly died wrestling an elephant (Kenya)


Lucy Mkanyika, Daily Nation

Date Published

See link for photos.

They say that elephants have extraordinary memory. If this is true, then the rogue elephant that attacked Mabomani village in Voi, Taita Taveta County, near Tsavo National Park in early June will surely never forget Ben Mwangi for the rest of its life.

Mwangi, a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) honorary warden, is lucky to be alive after a terrifying attack by the elephant.

He had joined his fellow villagers to drive the elephant and its calf back to Tsavo East National Park when the beast struck and left him with serious injuries.

Armed with his pistol, the 51-year-old man tried to scare the elephant away from the village alongside eight courageous villagers.

Appeared Charged

According to Mwangi, the elephant, which had already gored a woman in the morning, appeared charged after villagers started throwing stones at it to scare it away.

Unfortunately, the woman succumbed to her injuries after her body was pierced by the elephant’s tusks and her intestines left hanging out.

“I asked the villagers to go back to their houses to avert more attacks. We managed to escort the animal up to a safe distance and decided to come back,” he says.

He adds that after walking a few kilometres, they saw the elephant coming after them.

After failing to outrun the elephant, he fell down and the angry animal charged down on him and flipped him with her tusks on his leg and tossed him in the air.

When he fell down, the elephant pushed away his pistol from his hand, sapping his courage.

“She made a loud trumpeting sound and its ears were flapping. It was a thundering sound that I will never forget,” he remembers.

He says the elephant smashed him on the back with its trunk and knocked him on the ground several times.

He remembers how the huge animal also tossed him in the air for the second time, dragged his body in the bush and tried to trample on him with her front legs.

“I said ‘kwisha’ (I am finished). I saw the huge animal above me and thought I was on the verge of death. I, however, managed to lift both my hands above my head which made the elephant lose balance and that was the only reason it did not finish me off by tramping on me.

This was God

“This was God because I don’t know where I got the energy from. I would be dead by now.”

The elephant then flipped Mwangi again with its tusks on the back. He held onto them as it tried again to trample him with its feet.

“After failing to get me on the third time, it decided to walk away.”

Mwangi was then rescued by the youth who had accompanied him earlier.

He was immediately rushed to St Joseph Shelter of Hope Hospital in Voi before being referred to Mombasa Hospital for specialised treatment.

“I was in excruciating pain. I lost a lot of blood but I thank God I never became unconscious.”

Mwangi sustained rib and pelvic injuries, with four ribs on his right side and two on the  left fractured.

Though he is now recovering at home and manages to move around on crutches, Mwangi says he does not regret helping the community.

According to him, helping the community to scare away wildlife from destroying their crops is a calling, and he must continue despite the challenges.

“The elephant was very innocent. I blame the villagers because they are the ones who charged at the animal.”

For the past two years, Mwangi and his wife have helped residents drive away elephants from their farms in parts of Voi Sub-County, one of the hotspots for human-wildlife conflict in the country.

Mwangi’s appointment as an honorary warden came in 2015 in recognition of his concerted efforts to end human-wildlife conflict in Kirumbi village in Voi Sub-County. 

The villagers saw how Mwangi and his wife, Clara Chebet, volunteered using their own resources to help residents scare away elephants from their farms even in the wee hours of the night and petitioned the KWS to honour him with the appointment. 

According to the Kenya Wildlife Conservation Management Act, an honorary warden is expected to assist and advise the KWS on general wildlife and conservation matters in their counties. 

For one to qualify, one must have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to wildlife conservation. 

The candidate is then vetted by a team of conservation practitioners and government officials. 

The appointment runs for three years.