Addressing human-wildlife conflict (HWC) has been a problem in Kenya for years, compounded by a rapidly expanding population that has encroached on wildlife sanctuaries and migratory corridors.
A new report by The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that human-wildlife conflict is the main threat to the long-term survival of some of the world’s most emblematic species.
Wildlife faces numerous threats, among them, effects of climate change, loss of habitat from deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, infrastructure and now conflict with humans, factors that have led to a significant decline of wildlife species and to the possible extinction of species whose numbers were really low already.
The report titled A future for all - the need for human-wildlife coexistence, says that if the world is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, human-wildlife conflict must be included in SDG implementation plans.
The organisations say while it’s not possible to completely eradicate human-wildlife conflict, there are approaches that involve the full participation of local communities that can help reduce it and lead to coexistence between humans and wildlife.
One success story is the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area in Southern Africa, where communities reported that most of their livestock losses through predation by lions occurred where free-ranging, unprotected cattle roamed in the evening and at night.
The installation of fixed and mobile lion-proof corrals for night-time protection in risk-prone areas led to a 95 percent reduction in livestock killings in 2016, and there were zero retaliatory killings of lions in 2016 (compared to 17 killed in 2012 and 2013), allowing previously threatened lion populations to recover.
The 2020 report of the Task Force on Human-Wildlife Compensation Schemes in Kenya says the human-wildlife conflict in Kenya occurs frequently in the dryland areas which boast a majority of the wildlife population in the country.
The top five counties that have had the highest reported incidents of HWC include Taita Taveta, Narok, Lamu, Kajiado and Laikipia.
The top 10 species of wildlife that are responsible for the most HWC incidents are elephants, buffaloes, hyenas, hippos, leopards, baboons, monkeys, snakes and crocodiles. Elephants are responsible for the highest incidents of crop destruction and have the highest number of reported threat incidents.
These incidents of human-wildlife conflict are costing the country dearly on many fronts.
When retaliatory killings of wildlife occur, the country loses one of its most valuable natural resources, which is key in attracting tourists who bring in more than Sh100 billion in foreign exchange to Kenya.
The taxpayer also incurs the cost of compensating the victims of human-wildlife incidents. In the current fiscal year, the government is spending Sh530 million on these compensations.
Tourism and Wildlife Principal Secretary Prof Fred Segor said the compensation is also a sign of compassion to the affected and to ensure people do not take revenge by killing the animals in return.
“This is the first phase of our compensation and in the subsequent part, we will disburse payments to cover crop destruction. We are waiting for the approval from the national Treasury and parliament to expedite the payments that form the bulk of our backlog which is over 700 active cases and some are in court,” he said.
Prof Segor said water provision to the wild will be put in place to curb cases where wild animals encroach on homes searching for the commodity.
Section 25 of the Wildlife Management and Conservation Act stipulates that Sh5 million will be paid for human death, Sh3 million for injury with permanent disability and up to Sh2 million for other injuries.
Previously, compensation for a person killed stood at Sh200,000 while those with injuries were paid Sh50,000.
In Elgeyo Marakwet County in the Rift Valley, victims of wildlife attacks received Sh28.5 million in compensation, arising out of 560 claims— with 111 of them being injuries and death.
The county has a large area of wilderness, but unlike others such as Laikipia and Narok, lacks formal conservancies that help keep wild animals and humans separated.
“Animals are safer in parks, unlike when they roam freely…one of the ways of taming human-wildlife conflict is through the setting up of conservancies especially on wildlife migratory paths,” said Tourism and Wildlife chief administrative secretary Joseph Boinett.
In the county, like many others, the majority of the claims arise from snake bites, which have strained the ability of the government to pay compensation.
Snake bites account for 60 per cent of Sh5 billion pending payments for wildlife attacks in the country.
This has seen the government look to stop paying up for snake bites, or at least reduce the amount due. While amendments to the act have been mooted, they are yet to be pushed through Parliament.
The reality for communities however is that snake bites, a good number of which are fatal, have been having a real negative impact on livelihoods and the economic wellbeing of families in the arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya.
Recently, Samuel Kanda, 65, succumbed to deadly venom after he was bitten by a snake as he entered his house at Kapchebar, Elgeyo Marakwet. Unfortunately for him, the traditional concoction used to treat such bites had run out.
“It was around 7 pm when we heard wails at the gate. But when we responded we found our father groaning in pain complaining a serpent had bitten him,” said Mr Joseph Chepkiyeng, son to the deceased.
“Snakes are lurking everywhere in the Kerio valley and the escarpment thus we are exposed to constant danger.”
The father of seven was taken to Arror mission hospital but due to the poor roads and terrain, it took two hours to reach the hospital.
“Unfortunately he died as he was transferred to Kapsowar mission hospital where he had been referred,” said Mr Chepkiyeng.
Mark Yego, a resident of Marakwet East, survived an attack by a Black Mamba on his farm. He however had his leg amputated as a result of the bite.
Cases of snakebites, leading to limb amputations and even death, have dramatically risen in the past decade from 20 reported cases in 2003 to over 500.
Experts attribute the jump to global warming, which has made snakes to move to previously cooler habitats, clearing of forests and the worsening droughts that force the reptiles to go into people’s houses to look for water.
Each year between June and September, elephants migrate from Nasalot game reserve in Turkana to Rimoi game reserve in Elgeyo Marakwet for their mating season.
But along their migratory corridor, locals have encroached and established farmlands and the animals are inevitably destroying their crops.
At Talai location, a group of locals who have diversified from the traditional pastoralism are now used to having crops on their 50-acre irrigation scheme destroyed by the animals.
They were upbeat and full of hope of a bumper harvest and more cash later this year when the crops matured but they will now be forced to look elsewhere as the crops were destroyed by the elephants.
They will now join the thousands waiting for compensation from the government for such losses.
The vice-chairperson of the County Wildlife Conservation and Compensation Committee (CWCCC) Margaret Arot Ekal has asked the government to put in place mitigation measures to avert further losses, which include the provision of water in reserves and clear demarcation of wildlife migration corridors.
She says that with the roaming elephants in the area, the lives of residents are also at risk, urging the government to move swiftly and protect the farmers otherwise the area will see a return of poaching activities.
“There is a need for fencing these reserves, even though the law of reserves and national parks are different if we are to resolve the matter permanently,” she said.