Man-eaters of Juja cause residents sleepless night

Isaac Waweru at a quarry in Nyacaba area in Juja, Kiambu county.

Isaac Waweru at a quarry in Nyacaba area in Juja, Kiambu county in a picture taken on September 28, 2022. There have been reports of people having been eaten by hyenas in Nyacaba.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In the fast-growing area of Nyacaba, it is the humans that encroached on the natural habitat of the wild animals.
  • Over the last 10 years, the area has evidently experienced a burst in real estate development and new settlements.
  • A spike in human settlement coupled with a lot of quarry activities has seen the attacks increase over time.

On the evening of September 1, nine-year-old Ryan Njoroge stepped out of their house at Nyacaba village in Juja, Kiambu County for a short call. He never returned.

A frantic night-long search for the boy yielded nothing.

Around 10 am on September 3, locals involved in the search stumbled upon tattered pieces of clothes Ryan had been wearing and chewed up pieces of a rib and spinal vertebrae.

On the night of the attack, Ryan had been doing his assignment with his father, Mark Njoroge, while his mother was at work on night shift.

Ryan reportedly asked to go out to answer a call nature.

Mr Njoroge became worried because the boy had stayed outside too long.

“He stepped out and called out his son’s name several times. He didn’t get an answer and his father got concerned because he was nowhere near the homestead,” said the boy’s grandfather, Mr James Kimani.

Little Ryan had become the latest victim of the man-eater hyenas of Juja.

Over the last year, the areas around Witeithie, Ndarugo and Nyacaba in Juja have witnessed a rise in hyena attacks with casualties estimated to be more than a dozen. 

For locals, life has become a tricky affair between life and death, with humans constantly being preyed on right at their doorsteps by one of nature’s nastiest predators.

Locals who spoke to the Nation said recent spotting of the beasts revealed clans of between eight and 15 hyenas each.

Area chief Muchui Muiruri said six people have been reported eaten this year but others go unreported especially when no remains are found. 

“Following the killing of the nine-year-old boy, villagers burnt a bush where they had been last spotted the animals to try and scare them away. There were at least 15 hyenas in that bush. That tells you there are so many hyenas living in different groups all over,” Mr Muiruri said.

In December last year, 29-year-old Samuel Kang’ethe who worked as a casual worker in one of the quarries in Kamuthi past Nyacaba village was attacked by the hyenas at around 7 pm.

Mr Kang’ethe was going home in the company of his friend when he came across the beasts.

He was overpowered by the pack of about 20 hyenas. His friend escaped with injuries and has been nursing them, which has made him look for alternative ways of earning a living apart from quarrying.

A few kilometres from Nyacaba village on the eastwards lies Athi village which is past the Juja Farm. Unlike Nyacaba village with harsh terrain, a recently tarmacked road leads our team to this village.

Residents in this village narrate many incidents of villages being mauled by the hyenas.

The most recent attack involved 35-year-old Robert Mwangi who was killed a few months ago in the dead of the night.

A cackle of about eight hyenas attacked the victim at midnight while he was heading home.

“We hear them always making their funny noises around here from about 7 pm onwards. Nobody can dare come out of the house. We have also trained our children to be very careful,” says Sylvia Wangare, a resident.

The villagers also claim that the hyenas have mauled more people but most of the cases go unreported since the victims are not known in the area.

“They can attack intoxicated people, some of them are just casual labourers and not residents in this village. It can take long for someone to know,” Ms Wangare said.

Usually, human-wildlife conflict occurs due to encroachment by either people or animals and the recent spate of attacks has sparked a debate over who, between the humans and hyenas, encroached into the other’s territory.

Encroachment

In the fast-growing area of Nyacaba, it is the humans that encroached on the natural habitat of the wild animals.

Over the last 10 years, the area has evidently experienced a burst in real estate development and new settlements.

The first thing one notices once you arrive in the area are tens of trucks moving in and out of quarries. Quarrying is the main economic activity and with a rapid increase in real estate development, miners have been quite busy.

A spike in human settlement coupled with a lot of quarry activities has seen the attacks increase over time.

“The area was not this populated in the past. And with the many quarries, it suddenly burst into a lot of activities. Regarding who encroached into the other’s territory, we found the hyenas here,” Mr Muiruri says.

However, the human-wildlife conflict between the locals and the vicious beasts is a problem that goes back over 25 years.

The chief told the Nation that the area sitting on about 1,000 acres previously belonged to a white settler during the colonial era.

“According to the information we have gathered over time, once we gained independence, the settler left the land to one of his workers,” Mr Muiruri said.

The worker is said to have sold the land to about 27 elders from Mang’u but they did not develop it or continue with the sisal farming activities.

This means the land was left idle for close to 30 years, turning the area into bushland with a maze of caves all over.

This made it a suitable environment for wild animals, including predators like hyenas, which preyed on other mammals like zebras, antelopes and hares. “To date, you are very likely to come across animals like zebras which have always lived here. But they have decreased over time due to hunting,” the administrator said.

He said that around the 1990s, the elders who had bought the land subdivided it further and started selling off portions to community groups.

As years went by, the land was further subdivided and sold off as plots. Currently, a plot is selling at around Sh700,000 and the proximity to the Thika superhighway and urban towns has attracted more buyers.

Hundreds of families over the last 10 years moved into the area, oblivious that they were moving right into a hyenas’ den.

While the increase in human population significantly disrupted the ecosystem, it is the mining activities that have exacerbated the problem.

There are hundreds of quarries in the area which originally were cave systems. “The more mining is done, the hyenas are pushed out of their homes. The animals they preyed on have also diminished,” the chief said.

With nothing left to prey on, the hyenas have turned to humans as their source of food targeting revellers, quarry workers and children.

“What is worse is that once a quarry shuts down, the hyenas move into those mines. It is impossible to keep track of them and their population,” Mr Muiruri said. Efforts to get a response from Kenya Wildlife Service were fruitless as they did not respond to our queries by the time of going to press. 

Now, locals have been forced to adopt a self-imposed curfew routine where they ensure they get home before it gets dark. Every day, as darkness sets in people lock themselves in their houses and the hyenas take charge, with their disturbing ‘laughs’ a constant reminder of who rules the nights.

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