It’s now man vs beast as thousands face starvation

Ms Saumu Sodama

Ms Saumu Sodama from Kwale County whose children were killed by hyenas.

Photo credit: Pool

It’s mid-morning at Nkaroni village in Samburu East. Pilinka Lekalau, 42, stares at livestock carcasses strewn all over his small traditional homestead. He is devastated.

More than 33 sheep and goats were killed by wild animals at night.

The father of four was also attacked by an elephant days earlier and he is lucky to be alive.

"Wild animals are roaming here freely. You hardly walk a kilometre before spotting one or two. Look now, I survived an elephant attack two days ago, and I have lost my livestock," he says.

Around the manyatta, the helplessness among Lekalau’s family members is visible as they watch their sources of sustenance lying dead.

In a semi-nomadic region where livestock is the largest source of livelihoods, the death of his livestock brought more devastation on top of the biting hunger being experienced in the region.

Area chief Pois Lenabori says the recent attacks on livestock are due to the ongoing drought in Samburu East, which has seen hungry wild animals raiding human settlements in search of food and water.

In the neighbouring Lodungokwe shopping centre, marauding elephants had killed a man less than a week earlier.

Mr Lenabori says there has been an influx of elephants, buffalos, lions and hyenas roaming freely across Samburu East in the recent weeks.

"Wild animals are entering homesteads to look for water and food as there is little or none left in the forest because this area is scorched," the local administrator says.

But it is not only in Samburu that human-wildlife conflicts are increasing. The Sh6 billion 76-kilometre Turkwel Hydro-Electric Power Plant constructed between 1986 and 1991 by the government through the Kerio Valley Development Authority is now the origin of crocodile invasions and mosquito infestation.

Residents of remote villages surrounding the dam, which is about two kilometres from the Turkwel power station, have borne the brunt of attacks and killings by crocodiles, which swim in overflowing water from rivers Turkwel and Suam during heavy rains, and find their way into dams and shallow wells.

Power plant

More than 3,000 residents of Tipet, Reres, Konoso, Chepkachin, Kudulongole and Riting villages are living in fear following frequent attacks by crocodiles from the dam on River Turkwel, which is next to the power plant.  They say crocodile attacks against livestock are also on the rise.

Mr Solomon Amekam, a farmer from Tipeta, says he has lost 30 goats. He urges the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to fence off water points.

“During the rainy season, it is common for crocodiles to make their way to artificial dams and attack animals. We are appealing to the authorities to help us keep the crocodiles at bay with proper fencing," he says, adding that the reptiles also prey on children drawing water from the dams and rivers.

“Snake attacks are more common during dry spells,” he adds.

In Kwale, Lamu and Kilifi, the script is the same. Wild animals are getting out of their habitats and escalating human-wildlife conflicts.

Last week, two children were mauled to death by hyenas at Baisa village in Kinango, Kwale County. The county has been placed in the alert drought phase by the government because its water sources have dried up, leading to water and food scarcity.

“We share the only pan in Kishushe, Taita-Taveta County, with elephants. We are forced to go to the water source during the day when elephants have had their fill. Last week, we spent three days without water after the animals camped at the only source of water for days,” says Mr John Maghanga, a Kishushe resident.

Mr John Mwachala, 62, who was born and raised in Mbulia, a village at the edge of Tsavo West National Park, says the menace has escalated in the recent past.

Schools closed

He says his farm has become a grazing field for elephants, which have become defiant to traditional methods of driving them away. “They no longer fear scarecrows, whistles, bonfires and flashlights. Some come towards the flashlight instead of running away," he narrates.

Increasing wildlife ravaging villages has led to closure of some schools in Tana River County. Assa, Wayu, Titila, Idi and Odoganda primary schools have been closed as a result of drought as children are forced to embark on long trips in search of water.

School children in Mbololo, Ghazi, Landi, Kajire, Miasenyi, Kisimenyi, Mbulia, Kasigau, Kishushe, Mackinnon Road, Maungu, Marapu and Talio report to school late and leave for home early for fear of being attacked by the elephants.

According to the Kenya Red Cross, Kilifi is the most affected county in the region by famine followed by Kwale, Tana River and Lamu.

The KWS says it has put in place several strategies to try and contain the conflicts across the country.  KWS assistant director in charge of Coast Conservation Lilian Ajuoga says the agency has deployed more officers to supply water and forage to the animals in the park.

“Animals are out in the conservancies due to drought, but we are doing our best to contain them,” says Ms Ajuoga.

Samburu County KWS Senior Warden Eric Aduda adds that most pastoralists are encroaching on wildlife corridors in the wake of droughts, a move that has led to conflicts in Samburu East. He warns that mass migration of elephants and other wild animals may be ongoing due to the drought and that residents should avoid elephant corridors.

Environmental expert Jack Raini says the climate crisis and the abnormal weather that comes along with it does not just affect people, but it stresses wild animals too.

Recently, the government formally declared drought a national disaster.

Severe droughts due to inconsistent rainfall and scarce pastures due to the invasion of desert locusts led to severe food insecurity for more than half of the Samburu population, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society.

 By Lucy Mkanyika, Kalume Kazungu, Geoffrey Ondieki and Oscar Kakai