Tit for Tat: Victims of wildlife conflict turn to game meat as delicacy

Witu Town,one of the towns where game meat business thrives in food kiosks and homes. 

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor I Nation Media Group

Lives have been lost to wildlife, many families have members living with scars from wildlife attacks as compensation processes drag on.

Some have died waiting to be compensated and others have been waiting for more than seven years.

In Tana Delta, victims' patience has grown thin, laying the ground for revenge.

The retaliation is giving the beef industry a run for its money as game meat is fast taking over the tables in homes as part of routine meals.

"My son was killed by a buffalo in 2014. He was our only child but when we pursued compensation, we were dismissed," says Hassan Gulicha.

Just like Mr Gulicha, hunters have invested in weapons - sharp blades, spears, traps and baskets for carrying their catch home.

They sit on their farm in Shirikisho and Kipini villages, laying several traps for buffaloes that come grazing at night.

Into the night, they kill and skin the animals on the farm, bury the intestines elsewhere and throw skins and heads into the bush.

The beef is cut into pieces, salted and hung on trees close to beehives.

In the morning, they pack it in smoked leaves to conceal any smell, place it in sacks alongside bananas or charcoal meant for transport to markets in Witu, Minjila and Garsen, where clients await.

"Game meat has a smell. If you meet an experienced game warden, they can tell, so it has to be concealed properly," Mr Gulicha says.

Hunting, farmer Mohammed Jilo says, is the new norm for farmers who keep losing their crops to wildlife, saying it is the only consoling option available.

A view of Kipini Village, In Tana River County where hunting and sale of game meat thrives

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor I Nation Media Group

He says the Kenya Wildlife Service is to blame for failing to compensate victims.

"You can't console a parent who has lost a child or a man who has lost a wife. He knows his pain and that pain has been directed to the adventure of hunting and selling game meat," he says.

A sack can contain up to 70kg of meat destined to various towns for about 100 customers.

In Garsen, dik-diks sell like illegal drugs, and traders, men and women, compete for the hungry market.

Sometimes the traders scramble for customers in the highly coordinated trade.

"It has come to a point they are now allocating themselves streets where they can supply the meat. It's serious business here," says Mercy Thairu, a resident.

As households adopt game meat in their routine meals, butcheries are feeling the brunt of the competition.

Customers are disappearing, and butcheries that used to sell a cow's beef in one day now do so in two to three days, while sales of other meat types have fallen drastically, from four goats in one day to two goats and sometimes one.

"Some of us have closed shop. This game meat is not doing us any good. We can't match the pace," says butcher Elisha Komora.

The game meat is delivered to doorsteps. A client is allowed to choose the chunk he or she wants and the weighing scale is in the hands of the trader.

A kilogram of buffalo meat sells for Sh350 while a full dik-dik goes for Sh300.

Residents say a single dik-dik can feed six to 10 people, unlike a kilogram of mutton or beef that can't satisfy four people.

"It's a cheaper alternative compared with what we get in the butcheries. Most people also like it because it has medicinal value," says Mwanaidi Shaban.

Bigger food kiosks and hotels are also losing customers, as remote food kiosks in the towns sell the most sought-after game meat and stew.

Instead of chicken, guineafowls are now trendy in the kiosks, with a full cooked piece going for Sh350, an amount that can only fetch you a chicken steak in larger food kiosks.

The meat is delivered between 6am and noon when game rangers and scouts are in the forest on patrols.

Tana River County Senior Warden Agustine Ajuogo says the team is vigilant and has arrested several hunters.

"In the last three months, we have locked up many and we are pursuing many others, but we can't do it alone," he says.

The warden urges business people affected by the trade in game meat to team up with the KWS and help by providing intelligence on dealers so as to help restore the market for legitimate products.

He also warns residents buying game meat that the law against poaching may catch up with them.

"We may appear quiet and stupid, but the day we storm those houses and find you cooking such meat, we will regard you as a poacher and you will be charged in court," he warns.

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