A Sh5.6 billion compensation claim, angry locals and 10 dead lions


A lion.

Photo credit: File

Human-wildlife conflicts in the vast Kajiado County have slowly snowballed into a catastrophe in the past week, leaving 10 lions dead, 10 goats and a dog killed and the pain of dozens of human-wildlife years of uncompensated victims.

Saturday May 13, was a grim day for wildlife conservationists as six lions were speared to death by herders at Big Life Foundation's headquarters at Imbirikani Ranch in the Amboseli Ecosystem.

On Friday night, a pride of nine lions had wandered into a homestead near the town of Imbirikani and preyed on 12 goats and a dog before retreating to the fenced Big Life Foundation headquarters nearby.

But all hell broke loose on Saturday morning when a group of 60-80 moran youths armed with spears stormed the compound and speared the six helpless lions to death. In a video seen by Nation, the accused youths can be seen pushing the lions into a bush and then spearing the docile wild cats to death... the animals' shrieks were drowned out by the screams of the attackers.

Nation has established that the group of youths had regrouped at dawn on Saturday, with the blessing of some local leaders, to retaliate. It was a pre-organised attack, with spies having previously pinpointed the Lion's location.

"We sent a cold message to KWS to put its house in order. Enough is enough. Let them (KWS) declare the exact number of lions and elephants killed by the community in the last year," said a local who took part in the killing.

Saturday's incident comes after four other lions were killed in similar separate incidents, including the oldest, named 'Lonkiito', who was 19 years old. 

The lion was speared to death by herders in the village of Olkelunyiet last Wednesday night while trying to prey on livestock. The old, frail lion had waded into the village from the park in search of food.

Nation understands that human-wildlife co-existence in the region has been frosty, and signs of possible retaliation by herders have been conspicuous. Late last year, the herders threatened to fence off wildlife corridors because of KWS' harassment.

Over the past year, the pastoralists, who have been facing severe drought, have accused Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials of taking a heavy-handed approach to herders who sneak their cattle into national parks in search of grazing. A handful of herders have been arrested and fined for grazing in either Chyulu Hills, Tsavo East or Amboseli National Parks.

"During the severe drought, they barred our livestock from grazing in the parks, but their animals were grazing on our private land... Now (the animals) are preying on the few animals that have survived the drought. It's not fair," said John Sitoya, a pastoralist.

The culmination of last weekend's killings prompted a crisis meeting on Sunday attended by the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage Ms Peninah Malonza, KWS Director General Dr. Erustus Kanga, KWS Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Erustus Kanga, Kajiado Governor Joseph Ole Lenku, Kajiado County Commissioner Felix Watikila, Kajiado Senator Samuel Seki, Chairman of the KWS Board of Trustees Lt Gen (Rtd) Walter Raria Koipaton and the local community neighbouring Imbirikani Group Ranches to address the escalating human wildlife conflict.

Cs Malonza said his ministry owes victims of wildlife attacks a total of Sh5.6 billion in compensation accumulated since 2013 across the country, while Sh940 million is currently available for compensation.

"The government is raising enough money to offset the accumulated compensation. We want to ensure that pastoralists' animals are insured against wildlife attacks," she said as she pleaded with the Maasai community to continue coexisting with wildlife.

Kajiado Governor Joseph Lenku called for the immediate release of the suspects, who were arrested on Saturday, saying the KWS should be congratulating the community for coexisting with wildlife and setting aside 60 per cent of their land for conservation, not reprimanding them for an 'accidental' incident that saw the death of the lions.

Mr Lenku also cancelled contracts for the carbon credit scheme across the region, saying the scheme was counterproductive for the community.

"This needs to go out as a notice, this is about carbon credits. For those who have carbon credit agreements, contracts or licences as far as the district government is concerned, they are all cancelled. We signed into carbon credit without knowing what it is, we must go back to the table if there is a flame work for us to discuss, "he said.

Kajiado Senator Samuel Seki faulted KWS for responding to herders' distress in time of attack on snow pace, but sending a high-profile delegation when an animal has been killed.

"We want a prompt response when a person is attacked or animals are killed by wild animals. We want compensation for our people," he said.

The same sentiments were echoed by the local leaders present. Most of the local leaders' calls for a truce were probably made with their tongues to their cheeks.

In the past year, cases of human-wildlife conflict in Kajiado County have reached a crescendo.

On June 2, 2022, four male protesters were shot dead and eight others injured by General Services Unit (GSU) police officers at Masimba trading centre along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway during a demonstration against the increasing deaths and destruction of property by marauding wildlife in Poka Kenyawa Ward, Kajiado County.

The 10 GSU officers were arraigned in court on November 7, on charges of murder and causing grievous bodily harm contrary to Section 234 of the Penal Code. The case is ongoing.

On December 19, 2022, two middle-aged men were trampled by stray jumbos in the Kimana region. In retaliation, angry locals killed an elephant.

According to the KWS report, on Thursday December 15, 2022, during the day, a crowd of about two hundred people from Esaronoto village, Imbuko location, Mashuuru sub-county within Kajiado County, reportedly went on a spearing spree on elephants in the area after one of their own, Mr Nelson Lepilal Somoire, was killed the previous day while riding home on a bicycle.

Angry members of the public killed a pregnant female elephant with a spear in Esaronoto village. Several other elephants have fled to safety with spear wounds, as evidenced by blood droppings on the nature trails/escape routes.

Two years ago, the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage launched the Amboseli Ecosystem Management Plan to curb rampant land-use change within Amboseli National Park, which was threatening the sustainability of wildlife conservation.

The 10-year integrated plan follows numerous human-wildlife conflicts resulting from human activities within the park and along wildlife migration corridors.

The plan now prohibits all human activities within or along the migratory routes to facilitate and maintain wildlife habitat connectivity.