For many decades, one of the country’s largest herd of elephants has wandered the vast Kerio Valley region. It is until nearly the last two decades when a conflict between the jumbos and farmers ensued with acres of food crops and other property along the migratory route being destroyed.
The animals take a 400-kilometre walk from Rimoi National Game Reserve in Elgeyo Marakwet to parts of Turkana South through West Pokot and back.
They follow a common route that has in recent years, been put under crops, sparking a face-off between migrating jumbos and farmers who grow mangoes, bananas, maize, and millet. Hopes of a bumper harvest in sections of the troubled Kerio Valley in Elgeyo Marakwet County have been dashed by marauding elephants.
According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, the herd made of nearly 200 elephants migrate between July and December – their mating season; a period in which they move out of Rimoi to meet other herds in Nasolot Game Reserve near the border of West Pokot and Turkana Counties for procreation.
Like other years, farmers are counting huge losses, amounting to millions, thanks to the migration. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said the jumbos were forced out of the game reserve by muddy conditions occasioned by heavy rains in the area since March.
For the last two days, the service has been driving the jumbos in parts of Endo area in Marakwet East, back to Rimoi using a helicopter, but they declined to return to the game reserve, according to junior KWS warden in the operation.
“We are now driving the herd of elephants to Nasolot in West Pokot. We attempted to take them to Rimoi but they are unwilling to be driven in that direction,” the warden said.
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In the last one month, the marauding jumbos stormed areas of Marakwet East, trampling on acres of fruits, maize, sorghum, and millet fields. Yesterday, farmers who were expecting to begin harvesting from next month said the elephants turned more destructive on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights.
“The elephants spent an entire Monday night in my two separate farms. They uprooted maize and sorghum and trampled on the millet,” a farmer, Ruth Kiptilak recalled how the migrating elephants wreaked havoc in her farm in July.
Ms Kiptilak said the elephants were moving in two groups of about 40. She said the stray jumbos have been in the area for several weeks, at times crossing to Tiaty in the neighbouring County.
“I decided to light a fire throughout the night to keep the elephants at bay. We are still waiting for agriculture officers to assess the damages,” the devastated farmer said.
She continued: “Two KWS warders have tried to chase away the elephants but they keep coming back.”
Ms Kiptilak said she lost maize and sorghum worth over Sh150,000. Harvesting was to begin in the next three weeks. Another farmer Richard Rutto said he lost an acre of millet after the jumbos camped in his farm one Sunday night recently.
“I lost millet worth at least Sh50,000. They also destroyed my sorghum farm and I am yet to establish the value of crops lost,” Mr Rutto said.
Jacob Tilem, a local chief who also lost an unknown value of maize and sorghum crop during the elephant invasion said angry residents threatened to hold protests but were calmed by local administrators.
“We have been trying to contain angry locals who have threatened to kill the elephants. We are urging the residents to give KWS officers time to return the elephants back to the game reserves. This has been happening every year,” the Chief said.
Three days ago, Elgeyo Marakwet KWS warden Zablon Omulako apologised to locals.
He attributed the conflict between the jumbos and farmers to several human activities, mainly farming along the traditional migratory route.
Mr Omulako also attributed the movement of elephants out of the game to changing climatic conditions.
“We are assuring farmers that they will be compensated for the losses. We have deployed a chopper to return the elephants back to the game reserve,” he said.