Tension has engulfed lower parts of Tigania in Meru County after camels from neighbouring counties invaded farms, triggering fears of conflict over pasture and water.
Locals said the presence of herders from other regions has in the past contributed to crime, especially cattle rustling and armed violence.
Ms Mary Montune, an elder from Nkiluthu village, said women are particularly afraid of venturing far from their homes after 6pm due to the presence of the herders.
She said many of the herders are usually armed with guns, swords or other crude weapons.
The camels are mainly feeding on pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli), commonly planted as a hedge around homes or to mark boundaries.
“There are people who are selling their plants for pasture but sometimes they are grazing on people’s fences without permission. Every time at 6pm, women are afraid and cannot venture far from their homes due to fear,” said Ms Montune.
The Nyumba Kumi official said the herders also lure young boys whom they recruit to herd their animals in exchange for camel milk and ugali which many families in the famine hit area cannot afford.
“I just handled a case where a Class Four schoolboy had gone missing for a day and night only to be found with the herders. Most of the times when the herders leave, they carry with them the boys who are used for drawing water for the camels and for grazing,” she said.
Mr Jim Muchui, a local leader, called on the government to control the grazing of camels in the area since the land there is private and not a grazing zone.
“When the camel herders come, there are criminal elements among them and cases of insecurity rise. They pass through people’s farms. Most of the children disappear forever while others only return in their old age,” he said.
Mr Muchui said they had noted a pattern where donkeys in the area contract various diseases and many usually die or are sickly soon after the camels leave and it rains.
Last year, over 40 donkeys in the region died after being attacked by the stable fly (Stomoxys calcitrans).
The insect sucks blood from the animals, leaving them with gaping wounds, forcing the residents to dress the animals in trousers.