A close-up of a section of an electric fence erected to keep elephants away from the farms of residents in Thome area in Laikipia County, Kenya.

Farmers in Thome area in Laikipia County, Kenya, have a reason to smile thanks to an electrified fence put in place to protect their crops from elephants.

The three-feet high, 20 kilometers long fence is co-funded by the county government of Laikipia, conservation charities Space for Giants and the Leopardess Foundation, and the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk).

Residents and authorities in Laikipia frequently complain about the damage the elephants cause to farms, the environment as well as the threat they pose to people.

The damage to farms results in economic losses for the farmers.

“In one night, you could find the elephants have destroyed your farm,” said John Mundia.  “In some cases, the money I had invested was a loan from a bank. The bank will not know that the elephant had eaten the harvest. They (the bank) will demand I pay the loan. I believe the fence will be of great help to us.”

Space for Giants’ project officer Samuel Githui said the organisation wanted to reduce the risks and costs borne by people living near wild animals and also protect wildlife and its habitats.

Space for Giants’ project officer Samuel Githui (left) explains the features of the electric fence to representatives of the Laikipia county government, including Governor Ndiritu Muriithi (second left).

“For any successful fencing project, there are three factors: design, maintenance and reinforcement. Once you have the right design for the fence, then, you are sure whatever you are deterring will be a success. This fence must also be maintained on a daily basis,” Githui said.

Githui noted that the biggest threat to the fence is humans, who are likely to damage it for reasons that include forcible entry and use of fence materials for firewood. Githui said there must be stiff penalties for people who damage fences to deter future incidents.

Space for Giants said the new fence, which replaced the old one that was damaged by both elephants and humans, is a completely different design with pioneering features.

The fence’s posts have been shortened to make it difficult for elephants to lever them out of the ground. The fence uses low-level ‘outriggers’, wires from the main fence line placed at a 45 degrees angle to shock the elephant before it can reach the post using its trunk or tusks. The shocks, however, do not fatally harm the elephants.

With the completion of the section of the fence, farmers have reported that they are safer and that they expect more yields when the next harvest comes.