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Wild animals invade Taita-Taveta

BUSINESS
By | October 14th 2009

By Renson Mnyamwezi

A steward in a Tsavo National Park lodge Mr Mwakisakenyi Mali had taken his weekend off last Thursday hoping to return to work on Sunday. But on the day he was to resume duty, sad news reached the hotel that he had been trampled to death by an elephant.

A man who had lived all his life in the wildlife infested area of Bura, Mwatate District, his family members said he knew how to avoid danger. However, on the fateful day, as he walked home through a path made dark by an evening drizzle, he encountered an elephant that had roamed into his village and the beast turned on him, killing him on the spot.

A herd of elephants in Tsavo West National Park drink from a shallow well.

The death of Mwakisakenyi, a steward of the Tsavo Taita Hills Lodge brought to three the number of people trampled to death by elephants in three weeks. Last week another jumbo killed a 65-year-old man in Voi district. The casualties also bring to ten the number of people killed this year by wild animals while several others have been seriously injured.

It is the latest indicator of a crisis of wildlife invasion into inhabited in the areas in the region, as drought continues to force animals to wander far in search of pasture and water.

Taita and Taveta regions face one of the worst human-wildlife conflict cases in the country. Tsavo East and West National Parks occupy 62 per cent of the total area of 17,128 square kilometres covered by the region, turning it into a virtual theatre of conflict between humans and wild animals.

Rangelands occupy 4,110 square kilometres or 24 per cent while only 2,055 square kilometres — 12 per cent — is inhabited land suitable for agriculture.

Widespread invasion by wild animals into inhabited areas has been a thorn in the flesh to local residents for long. The effect is felt across the four districts of Taita, Taveta, Mwatate and Voi.

Residents over the years have suffered huge loses occasioned by herds of marauding elephants, buffalos, zebras and other animals which invade their farmlands destroying crops and threatening lives.

Families affected

Scores of compensation claims for victims, either injured or killed by wildlife, are yet to be processed by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Families affected complain that Sh200,000 paid for life lost and Sh50,000 injury is too little and should be reviewed.

"One cannot compare the value of life to Sh200,000. This is a drop in the ocean and the issue must be re-looked into afresh," says the chairman of the Taita-Taveta Rights Forum Richard Mwangeka.

According to the area Community Wildlife senior warden Bernard Koruta, 330 cases of human-wildlife conflict were reported between January and September this year and out of these 291 had been attended to by KWS.

The elephant that killed Mr Mali on Thursday was shot by KWS rangers the following day, as is the case with rogue animals that kill humans.

Six deaths

Koruta said six deaths were caused by elephants (2), leopard (1), buffalos (2) and snake (1) while those of injuries were 20.

Koruta said the District Wildlife Compensation Committee (DWCC) forwarded to KWS 29 claims for compensation, which are yet to be processed.

"As a committee we have forwarded all the compensation claims and it is up to KWS to process them," he said in an interview.

The warden said a 30-kilometre Ndii-Ndara and another 31-kilometre Bura-Maktau electric fence are complete while the 80-kilometre Jipe-Chala fence project is in progress.

He said the proposed 75-kilometre Ndii-Maktau fence has been approved by NEMA and will start soon.

Education Assistant Minister Calist Mwatela said extreme rural poverty in the region is contributed to by wildlife destruction of crops especially in areas bordering the parks.

Zebras in Tsavo West National Park. Photos: Evans Habil/Standard

The Minister who is also the Mwatate MP accused the KWS of dragging its feet in handling the wildlife menace in the area.

Mwatela whose constituency is one of the hardest hit by wildlife attacks criticised the Government of paying lip service to protection of people from wildlife attacks.

Some of the epicentres of the wildlife conflict in the area include Kasigau, Kishushe, Mbololo, Mwachabo, Miasenyi, Bura, Chala, Njukini and Jipe among others.

Mwatela said residents were ready to support conservation measures but on condition that they were accorded opportunities to reap direct benefits from the wildlife resource.

They also call for implementation of a directive the President gave while touring the district three years ago that 10 percent of wildlife revenue be ploughed back to the local community for rural development.

KWS officials say many animals stray out of the park in search of water and pasture. The officials say following the onset of rains the conflict would lessen. Residents interviewed say the completion of stalled electric fence projects would help in taming attacks.

"KWS should excavate water pans inside the park in to harvest run off water for use by wildlife during the dry spells," says Mwangeka.

The conservation body should also increase surveil-ance to end the menace, he said. he said the invasion would further complicate the food situation, making area people perennial dependents of relief food and other help.

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