Free Area, the Nakuru estate where baboons terrorise residents


Baboons on a roof at Free Area Estate in Nakuru. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The primates have become the unofficial co-landlords of houses in the Free Area neighbourhood.
  • The baboons attack tenants, scaring them so much that they keep leaving.

Welcome to Nakuru's Free Area Estate, where the urban landscape meets the wild.  Here, humans collide with nature's mischievous side. The views on the estate are wild, and the tenants ... well, wild.

Should you decide to move in, your neighbours will be not only humans but also mischievous baboons with a penchant for damaging property and a knack for causing trouble. 

The primates are annoying and have become the unofficial co-landlords of the neighbourhood.

From rooftop races to garden raids, every day is a battle that has left landlords in despair and locals fearing for their safety.

For many years, the area's appeal was undeniable. Its proximity to the city centre and the picturesque Lake Nakuru National Park made it an ideal spot for investors and residents alike. But little did they know they were signing up for a wild ride.

Elizabeth Kafura Thiongo once dreamed of a peaceful retirement after building residential houses.


Baboons on a roof at Free Area Estate in Nakuru. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

But her dreams turned into a wild nightmare when baboons, locally known as 'cops', invaded the neighbourhood.

In an interview with Nation. Africa, she recalls how she bought her piece of land in 1982.

Initially, she used the land to grow maize and potatoes. However, things took a drastic turn in 1996 when baboons started moving from the park to her house. As the baboons began to encroach on her crops, she abandoned farming for real estate.

"When I built my rented houses, I had no idea that I would have to work so hard to maintain them. The baboons that moved into the residential areas at that time were few. But over the years they have overpopulated and are now a source of menace to the residents here," she says.

As a property owner, she says, she expected the investment to pay off in her old age. Instead, the baboons have left her a pauper, with every penny she earns from her rental house going towards repairs and protecting her home from the baboons.

From rooftop races to impromptu garden parties with troops of baboons of all sizes and genders, her rental property has become a battleground between humans and wild animals.

 "Baboons use our roofs as their main route as they travel from the park to the Top Cliff Hotel across the highway. Their sharp claws pierce the iron sheeting, making it leak whenever it rains. You have to do monthly repairs such as fixing the holes in the iron sheets. We replace the sheets every year," she explains.


A baboon on a roof at Free Area Estate in Nakuru. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Ms Kafura says that five years ago, in an attempt to save her clients from the baboon menace, she erected a perimeter wall and barbed wire fence. But that was not enough.

As a more effective measure, she installed a more expensive electric fence in 2018, but the animals are still making their way into her homes.

"Unfortunately, the Kenya Wildlife Service officers do nothing to help us. We have to suffer financial losses to stay safe in our homes. I spent Sh30,000 to install the electric fence and have a monthly electricity bill of Sh2,500. This is despite the fact that I have to sound the alarm every morning, noon and evening when the baboons return to the park to keep them away from my house," she laments.

She reveals that despite all the measures she has taken, some tenants still move to other areas when they get fed up with the baboon nuisance.

She has 22 houses and has to spend a lot of money just to maintain them. But she is not alone.

Jane Ngina's houses have been abandoned by tenants due to the baboon invasion.

For Ms Ngina, her once-thriving rental business has kept dwindling with each passing month.

She moved back to the Free Area three years ago to help her mother manage the rental houses, which the family has been running since 1979.

But keeping the tenants has been a struggle for her.

She notes that the baboons have attacked her tenants, scaring them so much that they keep leaving.

"Whenever you see a baboon in the compound, especially the males, you run for your safety and lock yourself in the house. My tenants cannot leave their windows or doors open because the baboons will take over the house. Once inside, they eat what is in sight and then scatter and waste the rest," she says.

"I have 21 houses from which I collect Sh1,700 rent every month. But at the end of the month, you may find only three occupants. The tenants tend to leave these houses every month. As the rains approach, I know that more tenants will leave because I still don't have the money for repairs. Unfortunately, some leave without paying rent because their electric appliances in the house are damaged after the rains," she says.

Ms Elizabeth Nyandia, a homeowner in Free Area, has been counting her losses for almost two decades. Her low point came when baboons ate her chickens.

"Baboons do not fear women. I had taken a loan of Sh200,000 to start a chicken farming business. But the baboons invaded my compound and killed my chickens. I watched helplessly as they ate them," she recalls.

She notes that she was left to service the loan with nothing to show for it.

Sospeter Gichimu says the area has lagged in development because of the human-wildlife conflict.

"New estates like White House, Barnabas have come up and are now way ahead of us. People are moving out of these estates all the time, and I fear that this could become a ghost town in the coming years because of the baboons," he notes.

Besides damaging houses and delaying development, the baboons have attacked residents in the area, leaving them with permanent scars.

For Elizabeth Muthoni, December 2022 remains a dark memory. A baboon hit her, forcing her to undergo surgery to save her swollen arm.

Ms Muthoni was admitted to Nakuru County Referral and Teaching Hospital for two weeks before returning home to nurse her injuries.


Baboons on a roof at Free Area Estate in Nakuru. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

"I stayed for more than a year without doing any work. I relied on my family and neighbours to clean, clothe and feed me," she says.

Veronicah Khanyushiri is another victim of baboon attacks.

She fell while running away from a group of primates and broke her arm. Her second injury was when she was bitten by a baboon in 2023.

She says the baboons turned her into a beggar and someone at the mercy of community members.

"I have always been a hardworking person, but the baboons have made my able hands unproductive. I used to do odd jobs to support my family. Now all I can do is depend on people," she says. 

 "The animals are aggressive and can attack you at any time. I have been injured twice, but the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has neither come to my aid nor compensated me. My question is, whose life matters, the animals in the park or human life?" she asks.

The two women now question the ability of the park management to control and protect them from the wild animals.

According to Cheruiyot Chepkwony, the County Warden at Lake Nakuru National Park, the Wildlife Management and Conservation Act of 2013 does not include baboons as one of the park animals that should be compensated.

"This Act passed by the lawmakers does not offer compensation to the victims who may have been attacked by baboons. The only way we could see compensation for victims of baboon attacks in the future is if the legislators table a bill in parliament to include baboons as park animals that can be compensated," he said.

He notes that the park's 78km fence is currently being upgraded, with the entire fence being replaced and reinforced with an 86km chain link fence, in an attempt to curb the problem of human-wildlife conflict.

 "The upgrade would see the fence being hyena or lion-proof from Naishi, Pwani area and soon it will extend to Mwaraki, Naka, Free area, all the way around to ensure that the old Lake Nakuru National Park fence is replaced with a modern protective fence.

Soon we will be able to contain the baboons and keep them in the park," he said.