Daily Nation (Kenya)
Mr Salim Ibrahim’s old timber house on the edge of Upper Imenti Forest in Nchoroiboro, Meru County, leaks on several spots as the rains pound heavily.
The 60-year-old survivor of an elephant attack blames his dire circumstances on persistent wildlife onslaughts since 1971 when he settled in the area.
As he takes a seat in the small two-roomed house, Mr Ibrahim, a former carpenter, says October 22, 2014 remains etched in his aging memory like a nightmare.
On that fateful day, a stray elephant almost killed him.
The results of the attack are evidenced by his weakened arms, scars on the shoulder and the back and protruding left ribs.
“We had woken up early as usual to go to work when we heard neighbours shouting. I was already walking towards the main road with my grandson when we saw the elephant appear near us.
“The elephant started chasing after us. After about 200 metres, it caught up with me. I broke five ribs, suffered torn skin on the back and broke my arms. I spent three months in hospital. I cannot lift anything heavier than half a kilo,” Mr Ibrahim recounts.
WAITING FOR COMPENSATION
Shattered by hefty hospital bills and unable to fend for his family, Mr Ibrahim has been relying on his children and aging wife.
After the attack, he applied for compensation and has been waiting for the payment of Sh3 million for the last five years.
In the neighbouring Nkunga village, Mr Jack Rutere says he has lost crops worth more than Sh300,000 to elephant invasions.
Three of his neighbours have been killed by the jumbos.
Across the forest in Gathuine village, three people have been killed by elephants while more than 100 families have been losing their crops to the jumbos every year.
Several kilometres away in Marimba, South Imenti, Mr Julius Mbaya, who has lived at the edge of Upper Imenti Forest since 1986 could not venture into horticulture due to daily invasion by elephants.
His one-acre piece of land that was free of tea bushes lay idle for years until an eight-strand solar-powered fence was erected around the forest.
Mr Mbaya is waiting to be paid Sh116,000 for the crop destroyed by elephants in 2014 when he first tried his hand in French beans and potato farming.
Over the years, the invasions have impoverished many, slowing economic progress for families that neighbour the Mt Kenya Forest.
The conflict is also costing the government billions of shillings in compensation claims, with the first batch of Sh569 million for 4,752 claims expected to be paid by the end of this year.
According to the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, the government will pay Sh1.5 billion in compensation for the period between 2014 and 2017.
A further 4,722 claims running into Sh1.859 billion have been deferred due to lack of documentation while 3,651 claims worth Sh1.5 billion were rejected.
The building of a 200-kilometre solar-powered fence along the Mt Kenya Forest at a cost of Sh500 million is promising to end misery for locals and save the government the much needed billions.
A further 250 kilometres is yet to be covered to surround the entire Mt Kenya Forest in Meru, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu and Tharaka-Nithi counties.
The project is being spearheaded by Rhino Ark Foundation, Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project (UTaNRMP), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Mt Kenya Trust and community forest associations.
Rhino Ark Community Officer Adam Mwangi says the fence comprises of two one-way automatic gates along elephant corridors that facilitate the jumbos to enter the forest from Isiolo and Meru National Park.
“The Imenti forest has one of the highest concentration of elephants per square kilometre. This is why the human-wildlife conflicts have resulted to deaths of more than 10 people and up to 11 elephants,” Mr Mwangi said.
Mr Ibrahim, whose area has already been fenced off with the solar-powered fence, says they can now farm and sleep in peace.
In Marimba, Mr Mwangi says the fence has enabled them diversify from tea farming.
“We can sleep well at night without the fear of elephant attacks. I currently make about Sh100,000 from cabbages, potatoes and carrots every three months and I was able to build a permanent house. This has been possible because of the electric fence that now prevents the elephants from invading our farms,” Mr Mbaya said.
To make the solar fence sustainable, Mr Mwangi says Rhino Ark has been improving the design as elephants keep learning how to break through.
“We have scouts who check the fence and we have also installed a digital monitoring system that sends an SMS message when voltage in any section goes beyond the set limit. The partnership with communities has also ensured sustainability,” Mr Mwangi says.
According to UTaNRMP Land and Environment Coordinator Paul Njuguna, human-wildlife conflict incidents reported along the 60-kilometre forest stretch from River Thuchi in Tharaka-Nithi to River Thingithu in Meru have fallen from 117 to 3 cases annually.