On the edges of the expansive Lower Imenti Forest in Tigania West, Meru County, elephants that come to feed at the Gankere swamp off the Meru-Maua road are always a perfect sight for nature lovers.
The natural beauty has made it one of Meru’s major tourist attractions. On a normal evening, motorists park their vehicles near the fenced-off swamp, taking photos of the elephants.
After eating to their fill, the animals disappear into the thick forest, which also borders Meru University of Science and Technology.
But the herbivores have a way of straying into the university’s compound, posing danger to staff and students.
Vice-Chancellor Romanus Odhiambo says an average of 10 elephants invade the campus in Nchiru daily.
The university is now appealing for Sh150 million from the national government to build a perimeter wall around its campus.
Speaking to Nation.Africa, Prof Odhiambo said the animals mainly target the school’s farm to feed on sweet potatoes that are nearing maturity.
The don started raising the matter in 2019 after marauding elephants stormed the campus, disrupting learning for two days before they were driven away by Kenya Wildlife Service warders.
Earlier that day, the jumbos had killed a 48-year-old man in Mweronkanga village before they broke a chain link fence and entered the university.
“We have 10 acres of sweet potatoes that seem to be attracting the elephants because we border the forest. The elephants’ presence interferes with normal learning activities,” he said.
Toured the campus
The university, which has over 11,500 students, has an ultra-modern gate and screens its visitors, but the borders of its 580-acre land are porous and hungry elephants from the Lower Imenti Forest easily access the area.
Last week, Prof Odhiambo repeated his appeal to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga when he toured the campus to speak to students during his two-day visit to the region.
“We always make reports to the Kenya Wildlife Service whenever animals stray into the compound but nothing has been done to stop them from getting in,” Prof Odhiambo said.
In 2016, a lecturer at neighbouring Kenya Methodist University was killed by an elephant near the forest.
Cases of elephants straying into people’s homes and farms have increased in the area, heightening human-wildlife conflict.
Earlier this month, an elephant collapsed in the forest in a case of suspected poisoning.
KWS eastern conservation area assistant director Robert O'Brien said doctors had established that the elephant was pregnant when it was poisoned. He said this was the second elephant to be poisoned recently.
He said KWS is relocating the elephants that were invading farms in Nkando, Buuri.
As part of efforts to prevent elephant invasions around the Imenti forest, he said, KWS is installing grids and rollers along major roads to ward off the beasts.
Imenti North Deputy County Commissioner Obel Ojwang called on locals to help protect the animals rather than killing them.
“Killing wildlife is a serious crime. We are aware there are human-wildlife conflicts but we have to learn to resolve them amicably,” Mr Ojwang said.