Elephants now break into homes in Taita Taveta to look for snacks

Elephants

Mwandolo borehole in Zongwani village in Voi, Taita Taveta County. Elephants have broken the walls around the water point to share the commodity with the locals.

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika | Nation Media Group

It was around midnight when Julius Mwatela was woken up by a loud bang.

Moments later, there was a severe rumble and to his shock, he felt weightless as his bed was lifted and suspended in the air.

"It was my worst nightmare," he recalls.

He remembers seeing two huge tusks protruding through the mud wall of his one-room farmhouse in Zongwani village in Sagalla, Taita Taveta County.

A rogue elephant had poked its tusks through the wall as it tried to bulldoze its way into the house.

Sharp survival instincts saved him. He leaped out of his bed, yanked open his mabati door and dashed out running for his dear life. Behind him, the rogue elephant continued to ram its tusks into the wall to make its way into his house.

Mr Mwatela says it was one of the scariest moments of his life.

"As I was running to save my life, I saw other elephants standing outside the house. I ran to my neighbour's house and spent the night there. I escaped death by a whisker," he said.

Break-ins by elephants have now become the norm in the three villages of Zongwani, Marapu and Rahasi in Sagalla ward.

Villagers said one elephant had become notorious for raiding the village in search of water and food, causing trouble for the public.

The elephant has been raiding homes and kiosks and making off with food items like sugar, flour, bread and snacks.

Michael Mshambala, a kiosk owner in Zongwani, told Nation.Africa that the elephant has developed a taste for human food and breaks into houses to satisfy his cravings.

Last week, it invaded his compound and broke into his small kiosk and made away with a bag of sugar and several loaves of bread.

"I heard heavy sounds emanating from the kiosk and I peeped through the window of my main house," he narrated.

He saw the elephant poking its trunk through the roof of his kiosk rummaging through the shelves and throwing the items outside and carrying them away.

Mr Mshambala and his children watched in horror as the elephant ate the sugar and bread, it popped the loaves of bread with their wrappers into its mouth.

"It ate the loaves of bread with their wrappers. It also licked the sugar it had taken from the kiosk. I only recovered an empty sack," he said.

Keeping guard

"It stood not far from the house. I could pick out what it was doing. I lit a fire near my house to prevent the elephant from coming back. It was here yesterday but we are keeping guard."

This was not the first time the jumbos had broken into shops in the area.
In May, Mr Zablon Walongo's shop was invaded by elephants at night.

The elephants made away with a bale of maize and wheat flour and sacks of sugar and rice.

"I only recovered empty bales and sacks. I had to look for somewhere else to restock my kiosk. The building has not been repaired," he said.

He said the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) told him the government does not compensate people for destruction of shops but they promised to seek a clarification from the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.

Rummaging through her main house

"I still have the form with me, waiting for their call. I don't know whether the government will compensate me or not," he said.

In another incident reported last week in Marapu village, Ms Esther Gae said she saw an elephant rummaging through her main house as she was cooking at her hut at around 9pm.

She said the elephant removed the roof and started knocking over her belongings including the bed and cupboards.

"It combed the area and moved to another small house and broke the roof again. I don't know whether it was looking for water or food but they love flour," she said.

Last month, in the same village, a man was gored and critically injured by an elephant as he was heading to draw water at the Mwandolo borehole in Zongwani village.

Wachenje Mombo is now nursing injuries at his home after receiving treatment at Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi.

The incidents come amid rising elephant invasions across the county.

There are about 20 notorious elephants that have invaded the three villages, said Zongwani village elder Anderson Keke.

In 10 days, 27 houses have been destroyed by elephants, triggering panic in the area.

Doing takeaways

Mr Keke said elephants are roaming around the villages, wreaking havoc as they search for water and food. They are competing with humans for food.

"They are now doing takeaways. They carry our foodstuffs and eat them away from our homes. In a recent incident where an elephant raided a shop, we found some scones at the Mwandoto borehole. They carried the snacks to the water point," he said.

He said elephants no longer fear the tactics used to scare them away. When they throw a firecracker at them, they don't flinch.

"We have become security guards. We don't sleep at night, because we fear that the elephants would raid our houses," he said.

Another villager, Holiness Mwarimbo, says fencing would have been the most effective measure for reducing elephant raids.

She said the jumbos strayed from Tsavo National Park and ate all their crops and trees, reducing the peasant farmers to lives of misery.

"Our children go to school late and we're forced to escort them and take them from school. Insecurity has increased," she said.

She said the children are psychologically traumatised as they do not sleep at night and fear that they might not be able to perform well in school due to the trauma.

"At night, we don't sleep as we wait to repulse elephants in case they invade our homes," she said.

To alleviate the situation, the Taita Taveta Wildlife Response Trust said it would help the affected residents as they await compensation from the government.

Managing Director Majala Mlaghui said the group is partnering with various stakeholders to address issues of human-wildlife conflict and the challenges facing residents as a result of wildlife invasions.

"We will support them by paying for their medical expenses for those that have been injured, transport costs to KWS offices to fill the compensation forms and food aid. We will also help children by taking care of their needs," she said.

She said they will also help residents fill out compensation forms by bringing together all the relevant government agencies to villages.

"Instead of residents travelling to Voi, we make plans to bring them to villages so that residents could save transport costs," she said.

Greater conflict between humans and elephants in recent years has also led the county government to seek intervention from the Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee (IGRTC).

County officials accuse the State of failing to share revenue from Tsavo National Park.

They also accuse the KWS of failing to manage wildlife in protected areas.

Last week, the IGRTC team and the county government committed to resolving the dispute in six months.

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