NANDI COUNTY: Angry residents set fire to 5,000 acres of King'wal Swamp which is home to about 100 of the 250 rare antelope Sitatunga species found in Kenya.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials say an unknown number of these rare species are now feared dead following the Saturday attack.
KWS North Rift Chief Warden Joel Kanda said the fire was the residents' way of retaliating after KWS wardens arrested two individuals found poaching the rare antelopes.
"The two were each sentenced to three years for the crime and this sparked anger among locals who decided to set the swamp on fire," he said.
The swamp, which has been relatively dry due to the prevailing weather conditions in the entire country, caught fire easily, and it quickly spread across the Sitatunga habitat.
"We have so far recovered carcasses of three Sitatungas and are aware that an unknown number has been displaced either because they are dead or ran away to escape the fire razing down their habitat," Mr Kanda said.
The KWS official said the swamp burnt for more than two days, starting on Saturday, as residents tried to render futile attempts by KWS and Red-Cross officials to put out the fire.
"We managed to put out the fire on the first day but residents returned and lit the fire again, spreading it until it got out of control," he said.
Kanda appealed to the county government to invest in modern fire-fighting equipment, saying lack of these essential facilities hampered efforts to contain the fire.
He said it is also possible that residents took advantage of the fire to also kill the fleeing antelopes for their meat.
"KWS has now embarked on a survey to establish the remaining number of Sitatungas following the incident," he said.
The warden condemned the attack on the protected swamp and animals, saying it is not only a criminal act but one that will deprive the region of revenue from tourists visiting the site.
"We are working with the police and public administrators to conduct investigations that we hope will lead to the arrest and prosecution of all those who took part in the crime," he said.
Meanwhile, residents living along the swamp say they have no regrets over the swamp's destruction.
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"We will set fire to the swamp again if need be. KWS officials have constantly and continuously harassed and arrested residents residing along the King'wal Swamp under the guise of Sitatunga protection.
"We are tired of this ill-treatment. We do not want these animals here," said a resident who requested to remain anonymous.