No pushover: Kuki springs back to life after another bandit attack

Kuki Gallmann

Renowned conservationist Kuki Gallmann with her arm in a cast after she was attacked by bandits at her Laikipia Nature Conservancy Ranch in 2009.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ms Kuki Gallmann runs a nature conservancy that sits on the Laikipia-Baringo border.
  • Some have called for a state takeover of  the 100,000-acre parcel on which she carries out her conservation work.

Celebrated writer and conservationist Kuki Gallmann is headed back to her Laikipia Nature Conservancy, a year after she survived an attack by bandits.

Ms Gallmann, 79, had been to hospitals in and out of the country to treat the gunshot injuries she suffered in an encounter with 40 armed gunmen on May 13 last year.

The I Dreamed of Africa author was driving alone in the Ol Moran area when she was attacked and shot in one leg below the knee, with the bullet going through the car door.

After the attack, the bandits raided neighbouring farms and stole 265 cattle, which they drove towards a nearby valley on the boundary between Baringo and Laikipia counties. She underwent a successful surgery at a hospital in Nairobi but complications arose later and she has been in and out of hospital since. 

The conservationist is now headed back to the conservancy and planning a food drive for families affected by the ongoing drought.

“Once again, Kuki has proven herself to be an absolute force of nature, and against all odds, has emerged from an incredibly vulnerable period back to health with her usual wit and wisdom,” said her daughter, Sveva Gallmann.

“After a period of time at a rehabilitation centre in Italy, Kuki is finally back home in Kenya and delighted to be with her granddaughters, loved ones and the birds in her garden,” she added.

Ms Sveva lauded her mother’s selfless dedication to nurturing and protecting the biodiversity of Ol Ari Nyiro. A simple lifestyle, diet and prayers, she said, have contributed greatly to her recovery.

Armed herders

In April 2017, Ms Gallman survived another attack when she came face to face with a gang of armed herders, who shot and seriously injured her in the stomach. At the time of the attack, she was surveying her ranch to assess the damage caused by herders who had burnt down one of her lodges the previous night.

The illegal herders fired into her car and two bullets pierced her abdomen. She survived.

Earlier in the month, before she was attacked, herders had burned down Mukutane Lodge, which is owned by the family and sits on the Laikipia-Baringo border on 100,000 acres.

Herders had also burned down several buildings on the conservancy and attempted to shoot at Ms Gallmann’s daughter, Sveva, who was caught up in the attack but escaped uninjured.

Ms Sveva was shot at three times as she went to rescue her nine-month-old daughter, who was in the house but had escaped to a space between the buildings.

This was followed by a raid on the conservancy, where dozens of elephants were butchered and some properties vandalised. 

Last year, Ms Gallmann’s Laikipia Nature Conservancy became the theatre of skirmishes as armed gangs struck. The invasion later spilled over into neighbouring Ol Moran, Githiga and Sossian wards.

The attacks escalated over two months, leaving at least 20 people dead and about 400 families displaced.

Security operation

This prompted Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to order a security operation involving at least 400 security officers to flush out the criminals.

They were drawn from different security formations, including the Kenya Defence Forces, General Service Unit, Anti-Stock Theft Unit and Border Patrol Unit.

Ms Gallmann’s conservancy was also declared a troubled zone. A curfew was imposed on the 100,000-acre farm, one of the biggest single-block ranches in the Kenya. 

Local politicians have also been pushing for a government takeover of the conservancy.

But the Gallmanns insist that the leases for the Laikipia Nature Conservancy, which was bought from a Kenyan firm in 1972, will run for many more decades.

From 1983, the land was dedicated to conservation and community projects. It has since created one of Kenya’s most important water towers, the family says.

Ms Gallmann’s hope is that the injuries she suffered in separate attacks will not have been in vain and will draw attention to the plight of the local communities, galvanise efforts to save conservancies, bring in more investment and improve security.