His head heavily bandaged, he stares at the white ceiling of his hospital room, reflecting on how his life was almost snuffed out by an angry ‘queen’ of the jungle.
The close encounter with a lioness while responding to a distress call in Kimugandura village, Laikipia County, left Mzee Rimpaso Legei, 60, with serious injuries before he subdued the big cat with a spear through the head.
"The lion pounced on me and hit me on the head with its paws as it tried to bite my neck. During the brief struggle, I miraculously managed to drive my weapon, a spear, through its head, killing it instantly," the elder recalls.
Although happy to have survived the ordeal, he regrets the death of the lioness, believed to have strayed from one of the three nearby private game reserves, noting that the animal had mauled eight goats in the village within a week, so killing it in self-defence was the last option.
He explains that the community values wildlife conservation, which is one of the main economic drivers in Laikipia North sub-county through tourism, with several private and community-run conservancies.
"When we responded to the distress call, our intention was to chase them away from our grazing areas. But the animal remained defiant and attacked two herders who had responded. In fact, it pounced on me when I tried to free one of them from its grip," said Mzee Legei.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) deputy director for Laikipia County, Ms Rose Malenya, described the incidents as isolated, saying that despite the region having one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the country, retaliatory attacks are rare because locals have learnt to co-exist with wild animals, some of which roam freely on the vast plains.
Apart from this incident, there have been no recent cases of people killing lions or other wildlife as a result of human-wildlife conflict. In this particular case, it was an old lioness who was no longer able to hunt and had resorted to preying on domestic animals in the grazing areas," Ms Malenya explained.
She added that before it was killed, it had attacked four people in the space of a week, with the first incident reported last Friday when it injured a herder in the same area.
A report was made to our office and we teamed up with conservancy rangers but were unable to track it," said the KWS regional manager.
When the lone lioness appeared in the village on Tuesday morning, she seemed to have no trouble at all, first mauled a goat and then remained in the same spot, ready to take on a second goat after young herders fled the scene when they saw her. Three men were injured in the ensuing confrontation, two of whom were admitted to Nanyuki Cottage Hospital while the third was treated and released.
Mzee Legei suffered head, leg and back injuries, while his colleague Tela Murijo, 22, was bitten on his left leg by the lioness. Both are sharing a room at the hospital after undergoing surgery. Doctors at the hospital told the Nation that they were out of danger and would be discharged in a day or two, while the third patient, who suffered injuries to his right leg, had been treated and discharged.
"Of the two patients currently admitted here, one had two injuries to the skull where the bone was exposed. We took him to the operating theatre and he is now in a stable condition as he is experiencing pain from the injuries. The other patient had a deep bite wound on his left leg and we also took him to the theatre," said Dr Navin Raina, a surgeon who operated on the two.
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Mr Tumpes Legei, a Laikipia County government official and relative of one of the patients, said the lioness had caused fear and anxiety in the village for a week after killing several goats and sheep and injuring a herder.
As a county government, we work closely with the KWS to ensure a rapid response to incidents of human-wildlife conflict. Government compensation for injuries, deaths and destruction of property caused by wildlife is unreliable, with some families waiting up to ten years to receive payments, Mr Legei said.
In May this year, about 10 lions were killed in retaliatory attacks in Kajiado County after they strayed from protected areas to prey on livestock, killing 11 goats and a dog, according to a report released by KWS at the time.
In 2021, then Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said that although the lion population was declining in Africa, Kenya had recorded a 25 per cent increase since 2010, attributing it to protection and mitigation measures put in place by the government.
Mr Balala, who was speaking during the annual World Lion Day on August 10, put the country's lion population at just over 2,500 and called for concerted efforts to protect the iconic species.