By Kirimi Murithi
Unlike curfews ordered by government due to insecurity, residents of a village in Meru have lived under an elephants imposed curfew that extends from 6pm to 7am for more than 30 years.
And while young men in crime-hit areas of Kenya form security groups, here they keep vigil at night to stop elephants destroying homesteads. Welcome to Kithoka area in Imenti North.
However, their watch is limited to the family compound and does not extend to the farms where elephants sometimes graze on farm foods like maize.
“In other parts of the country curfews are issued to protect the people against Al Shaabab attackers, but we in Kithoka have been living under curfew for the last 38 years. Men here are guards to ensure elephants don’t destroy their homes or kill their livestock. We are saying the time for the curfew is over,” says Paul Kinyua, chairman of the elephants committee for Kithoka and other affected, neighbouring villages.
In June 1980, according to the official Hansard report of the National Assembly, the then minister for natural resources Richard Leakey said the government had authorised controlled shooting of elephants in the lower Imenti forest to alleviate the human-wildlife conflict.
“People staying near the lower Imenti forest have had constant harassment by the elephants. Before we can take a decision to eliminate the animals from the forest it will be necessary to carry out a census of the species. If these animals cannot be removed by driving them off then controlled shooting or construction of game proof defenses will,” Dr Leakey said.
In July 1996 during a session of the 8th parliament, the then MP for North Imenti, David Mwiraria, sought an explanation from the government on destruction of food crops in Kithoka, Naari, Kiirua, Munithu, Mpuri and Nthimbiri areas, making the farmers to starve.
The government replied that they were planning to establish a 22-kilometre electric fence to prevent elephant movement across the Imenti forest to the cultivated land.
A fence was actually built but did not stand for long.
The same issue resurfaced during the tenth Parliament when the immediate former MP for North Imenti Silas Muriuki sought the government to clarify whether the overpopulation of the elephants in the lower Imenti forest posed dangers to the residents.
The then assistant minister for natural resources, Josephat Nanok, said humans had encroached on elephants migratory corridors from Isiolo to the Mt Kenya Forest and the only remedy was to act on land management policies.
Kinyua says although the fence was erected 12 years ago, since 2013 there has been serious conflicts between the community and the elephants in the bordering Lower Imenti Forest.
“The problems started when three rogue elephants were introduced into the forest from the Lewa Conservancy. They have been destroying the solar fence built to restrain them from interfering with residents neighboring the forest,” he says.
He says the Kenya Wildlife Services should permanently restrain four elephants known as Jevet, Right Notch, Bullet and Flynn.
“We now fear for our lives and property as these elephants seems to have become uncontrollable in nature and we think it’s good they are eradicated,” he said.
Kithoka location has more than 650 households who are currently facing dangers from the animals.
Kinyua says the education system in the area has been disrupted and dairy farmers can’t take their milk to buying centres in the morning.
He attributes the worsening of the situation to failure by KWS to repair the solar electric fence.
Children from seven schools are also unable to go to school before 7am yet they can’t stay in school after 6pm because of the animals.
“As it’s evident there are limited job opportunities from the government and other sectors. We are becoming entrepreneurs and our main economic activity here is farming but it is irritating when we wake up to find that what we have toiled for over a long period destroyed,” he said.
“All we are asking is, let elephants stay in the forest which is their habitat and we stay in our farms. We have been very obedient and nobody has killed an elephant for all these years but with the current situation we might take action in our hands.”
Kinyua spoke during the burial of the late Clifford Mwenda, who was killed by a rogue elephant on the Meru-Ruiri road early June.
Jimna Patet, the Meru deputy warden, asked the residents not to heap blame on KWS because they may later realise they were wrong.
“KWS will follow all the processes outlined as per the policy for compensation. We conduct investigations and where certain that there is due reason for compensation, it is honored. Issues of elephants will continue being addressed using the latest innovations,” said Patet.
Buuri MP Kinoti Gatobu said: “KWS is to blame for the problems because last year through the CDF kitty we gave out over Sh2.5 million to repair the solar fence which has not been worked on since then.”