It’s early evening and Michael Tuitoek, armed with a spotlight, hurries to his lush maize farm, a few kilometres from the sprawling Rimoi game reserve in Elgeyo Marakwet County.
He is going for no less a mission than staying guard overnight to ward off marauding elephants that have been destroying crops around the reserve. To get a vantage position to scan his farm, Tuitoek has to scale an acacia tree where he spends the better part of the night.
He has built a makeshift structure akin to a giant bird’s nest kassar on the tree branches, complete with a ladder to access it.
“It is all because of the stubborn elephants,” says the peasant farmer who has fitted his kassar with a layer of thick blankets for some comfort. “For you to get a harvest you must spend nights in the cold guarding your crops from them (elephants).”
He is not the only one spending nights on a tree. Kassars are, in fact, a common sighting on trees in the middle of farms along the Biretwo-Rimoi-Tot route, which is prone to marauding jumbos.
Rimoi boasts of over 400 elephants traversing Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot and Turkana counties and each time they stray from their corridor they come into locals’ farms. The jumbos have also killed people and left some with lifelong injuries.
Last financial year in Elgeyo Marakwet alone, 77 cases of crop destruction worth over Sh10 million were reported. The farmers are yet to be compensated.
Nicholas Kiprono from Rimoi states the jumbos often destroy maize, green grams, vegetables, pawpaws, bananas, sorghum, millet, beans and watermelons, among other crops.
“When we spot them (jumbos) at night, we shout, light up fires and at times beat drums to distract them. At times we are forced to watch desperately as the jumbos destroy our crops,” he says.
He says the kassars come in handy in monitoring the elephants as they alert the KWS.
“If KWS rangers were swift at responding to our distress calls, we would not be having the risky kassaars,” he says.
Abednego Koech has seen people fall off the giant nests and get injured while others have been attacked by ants.
“My brother broke his limbs after he fell from his during the night watch,” he says.
Mercy Kotut said majority of women in the region have on many occasions spent lonely nights because their husbands have become night guards in the farms.
Elgeyo Marakwet KWS warden Zablon Omulako admitted the human-wildlife conflict caused by the jumbos was rife. “We are constructing a 44 kilometre electric fence along the corridor where the elephants stray into the locals’ farms and it’s about 90 per cent complete. When through, the cases will be reduced,” he stated.
He said the elephants have been changing their migration trends and in turn destroying the crops.
“Due to logistical challenges we at times arrive at the farms late, but the locals help us in minimising the damage. All the cases have been documented and farmers will be compensated for the crop loses,” she said.