A move by security agencies to return 56 cows intercepted in Elgeyo Marakwet on suspicion that they were stolen in a raid in neighbouring Baringo County has sparked uproar.
Security officials in Elgeyo Marakwet said the cows, which were intercepted on January 31, were returned to Baringo two days later.
But herders say the cows belong to herders from Elgeyo Marakwet County, and that they had been sold to an Eldoret trader.
Luke Tilem, a herder from Endo, Marakwet East sub-county, said two of the cows belonged to him.
Tilem alleged that owners of the cows were not given adequate time to identify their animals at Iten Police Station where the cows were held after they were intercepted at Buagar trading centre.
He said he had sold two of his cows to a trader and was shocked to hear reports that his cows were being handled by police as stolen property.
"I was in Nairobi when I received information that the cows I had sold to a trader have been intercepted. I travelled all the way to Iten police station and the OCS said the cows have been handed over to police in Baringo," Tilem said.
He added: "Some of the cows taken to Baringo are exotic and may have died due to the harsh climatic conditions. Exotic cows can't survive in drier areas of Baringo for more than three days. We are still asking ourselves why security agencies would expose our cows to such harsh climatic condition."
The herder warned that herders whose animals were taken away will sue the state if the cows are not returned to Iten for identification within 72 hours.
"I sold the cows to pay school fees for two children of my widowed sister. Anti-Stock Theft Police Unit in Kerio Valley never raised an issue about the cows because the cows were not stolen," he said.
Kiptoo, the trader, said he had paid Sh600,000 for 40 out of the 56 cows and said he had acquired a movement permit to move the animals from Elgeyo Marakwet to Eldoret town.
Elgeyo Marakwet County commissioner Ahmed Omar said the herders and the traders were given two days to identify the cattle at Iten Police Station, but did not show up.
Omar said some youth fled when they saw the police, raising doubts that the cows may have been stolen.
"The herders can still go to Baringo and identify the cows. The complainants were from Tiaty in Baringo counties and we had to take the cows there. Why didn't they show up if they were the real owners of these cows?" he said.
Residents from Kolowa, Baringo County, where the cows are said to have been stolen said the interception was the first one since banditry attacks rocked three counties – Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot and Baringo in 2016.
Meshack Narem, a resident from Baringo County, said the cows were part of 82 cattle stolen at Kolowa Bridge on the border of Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties on January 7.
"Bandits from a neighbouring community ambushed a group of youth herding cows at Kolowa Bridge. They shot dead Mirio Lomariwa, a 16-year-old boy, before taking away 82 cows," Narem said.
He continued: "We are so elated that, cows stolen during a banditry attack have been recovered for the first. We urge the police to continue with intercepting more stolen cows and arresting bandits."
Narem said six cows belonging to one herder were identified, adding that more herders who lost cows during the raid are still on their way to the station.
Kolowa MCA Solomon Loluka, who also showed up at Iten Police Station, praised the police for recovering the stolen cattle, saying five families lost cows during the January 7 attack.
"We are urging the police to increase road blocks in all routes where stolen livestock are moved out of the banditry-prone counties," Loluka added.
The police could however not immediately explain how the cows passed through various police station and road blocks including Chesoi, Kapsowar and Chebiemit without being detected.