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Monday, 14 July 2014

How Matwiku farmers manage destructive elephants

By Bob Aston

Kenyan population has been on the rise over the years. As search for land for settlement has been on the rise so has habitat loss and degradation which has increased confrontations between elephants and humans as they both compete for the scarce resources that are available. In Matwiku area of Ng’arua Division in Laikipia West, human wildlife conflict has become a common occurrence between the residents and elephants.
Elephants from Ol ari Nyiro (The place of springs) Nature Conservancy have been a common occurrence in the area. Elephants normally come out of the conservancy almost three times a week. At times they appear as early as 6:00 pm.
Picture of elephants
Matwiku is an agricultural productive area with most farmers trying to improve their livelihood through horticulture. Tomatoes, kales, cabbages, potatoes, peas, bananas, cassava, mangoes, avocadoes, maize and beans are in plenty of supply in the area.
Mr. Peter Gicheru, Secretary, Matwiku Horticulture Growers Self Help Group said that farmers in the area have to be constantly alert to the danger posed by elephants less they end up losing their farm produce.
Elephants normally leave the conservancy through areas commonly known as Lobele and 18. The two areas have become a common elephant passage which has even led to most of the farmers in the area evacuating the place.
Every night a group of around 10 volunteers usually remain in the farms to guide against destruction of crops by elephants. They have erected makeshift stalls at their farms, where they spend the nights to protect their crops. When they spot the elephants they either light fire or use a torch to try and scare away the elephants.
Formerly an operating cattle ranch, Ol ari Nyiro was transformed by Kuki Gallmann into a nature conservancy. The Conservancy is over 100,000 acres private wildlife sanctuary and nature Conservancy situated on the extreme Western edge of the Laikipia Plateau. The ranch also borders Samburu and Baringo Counties.
This year alone, three (3) consultative meetings between Ol ari Nyiro Nature Conservancy management and representatives from the community have been held to try and resolve the issue.
A community fence had been set up running parallel to Ol ari Nyiro, Laikipia Nature Conservancy but the fence was allegedly destroyed by unknown people. The community fence was later on rehabilitated but once again it was destroyed.
Mr. Gicheru attributes the destruction to lack of community participation when erecting the fence. He said most of the people in the area have not fully realized the importance of Wildlife and why the fence is important in reducing human-wildlife conflict.
Farmers admiring crops in a farm in Matwiku
Most of the farmers are oblivious to the fact that the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 became operational in Kenya on 10th January 2014. The Act has addressed has addressed ways in which the public can be compensated when their crops are destroyed by some wild animals. Farmers are supposed to report such incidences within 24 hours of occurrence to either the chief, Agriculture officer of Kenya Wildlife Service officer.
“Most farmers used to report cases of damage of crops by elephants but we never received compensation. Such cases normally take a lot of time and this makes farmers to stop pursuing them as you can end up spending a lot of money travelling to pursue compensation,” said Mr. Gicheru.
Currently a task force chaired by Laikipia Governor Hon Joshua Irungu is in place to see how to reduce human Wildlife conflict in Laikipia County. The county government has also come up with Laikipia Conservation Strategy 2012-2030 though an initiative of Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF).
Farmers in Matwiku have devised an innovative way of scaring the elephants. They burn dry elephant droppings mixed with pepper in a container. The burning scent normally scares the elephants away.
Some also mix grounded paper with water then spray the contents in various farm produce. When the elephant tries to eat the farm produce the smell of pepper will scare them away. Some farmers also insert pepper inside some maize cob. When the elephant eats the maize cob the taste of pepper will deter it from coming back.
“You will just see an elephant flapping its ears then it will turn and go back when it smells the pepper,” said Mr. Peter Kanyita, a farmer residing in Matwiku.
Mr. Kanyita said that elephants like pumpkins and potatoes more than other crops.  He said that their intelligence is surprising as they are capable of uprooting potatoes like “human beings”.
As confrontation between humans and elephants continue it is clear that various migratory routes have been cut off by human settlements in Laikipia County. The elephants normally pass through Nyandarua forest then proceed to Rumuruti, Marmanet forest and finally Ol ari Nyiro, Laikipia Nature conservancy.
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