Human-wildlife clash spurs poaching, illicit trade in game meat
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) blamed for failing to contain wildlife within the park, adding that poverty has driven many young men to poaching.
Some residents have lost their lives and others suffered serious injuries due to attacks by the animals, mostly elephants.
The injuries and deaths from wildlife attacks often occur outside protected areas in human settlements.
Villages have become vulnerable to attacks by elephants, lions, leopards, hyenas and buffaloes, and residents are increasingly resentful and hostile towards the animals.
Every day, Davis Mwachia sees tourist vans driving along the Voi-Taveta road towards Tsavo West National Park to view wildlife.
But the animals that make tourists happy are enemies to many locals who live next to the vast Tsavo ecosystem in Taita-Taveta County.
BOW AND ARROWS
As we enter his compound in Mwakitau village, we see a temporary fence built from thorny acacia trees, which have been tied together to secure the house, a small granary and a livestock shed.
In the homestead is a pen that has remained empty since his 20 goats and two donkeys fell prey to a marauding pride of lions from Tsavo.
Mr Mwachia says he sees no value in wildlife as he has never directly benefited from them.
“Why should we protect wild animals yet they only benefit the government? The donkeys made fetching water an easy task, but now I have to trek many kilometres to find the commodity or buy from vendors. I have also been unable to replace my herd because I don’t have the money,” he says.
He blamed the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) for failing to contain wildlife within the park, adding that poverty has driven many young men to poaching.
At dawn, he says, the poachers hawk the bush meat stealthily to villagers before daybreak. Zebras, dik-diks, antelopes, impalas and wild pigs are highly prized. Poachers use snares, bows and arrows to capture the animals.
The trade in game meat is also common in Mbulia and Ghazi. Locals interviewed by the Nation said villagers have resorted to poaching to fend for their families.
Mr John Mwadeghu (not his real name) said he has been poaching for the past four years to earn money for his children’s school fees, creeping into the neighbouring Mbulia ranch at night to hunt small animals.
“I only hunt for the small ones, like dik-dik. I cannot kill big animals like elephants. I use a torch, a bow and arrows,” he says.
Mwadeghu uses a bright torch to illuminate and startle the animal before killing it using his arrows. Before he turned to illegal hunting, his farm was invaded by a herd of elephants and all his almost-mature maize crops were destroyed. He says he has never received any form of compensation from the government despite lodging a claim at KWS offices in Voi.
Human-wildlife conflict in the area has become more frequent. Some residents have lost their lives and others suffered serious injuries due to attacks by the animals, mostly elephants.
The injuries and deaths from wildlife attacks often occur outside protected areas in human settlements. Villages have become vulnerable to attacks by elephants, lions, leopards, hyenas and buffaloes, and residents are increasingly resentful and hostile towards the animals.
Human-wildlife conflict has been recognised as one of the challenges affecting conservation worldwide. It undermines public support for conservation.
Some ranchers have embraced conservation by turning their land into conservancies. The Nation established that most residents are against the move, arguing that it would increase human-wildlife clashes.
Mbulia ranch has leased at least 15 acres of its land to New African Territories, a travel and tourism association. The investor has put up a tourist lodge that hosts visitors to Tsavo West National Park.
Kipalo Hills Lodge, deep in the wild, employs locals as rangers and hotel workers.
Lodge manager Samuel Kyembeni said they are working with locals to end the trade in game meat through awareness programmes to sensitise them on the importance of wildlife.
“We don’t arrest and hand subsistence poachers over to KWS,” he says. “We empower them to stop the illegal trade. That is how we can eradicate this vice.”
Locals should benefit from tourism for them to be involved in conservation, he says.
“In our case, for instance, 14 per cent of bed charges go to the community,” he says.