By Phares Mutembei
MERU: It is early morning and Mary Kinoti, 55, and her four friends are collecting firewood in Imenti forest, near the Agricultural Society of Kenya showground at Gitoro. About 500 metres away, a herd of five elephants is feeding on the thick vegetation. They freely cross the Meru-Nanyuki highway towards the Nkunga forest where there is a lake, swamp and an elephant maternity. Over the years, a number of elephants have been born here as a result of plenty pasture and water. We ask Mrs Kinoti why they seem oblivious to the danger lurking in the forest. “Yes, we have seen the elephants. We are keeping an eye on them even as we collect firewood. We need it. We sell some of it and also use it at home. I have no food at home, and it is because of these elephants,” she points a finger in the direction of the elephants. Two years ago, a pastor driving in the area hit an elephant and the herd pummeled his car, killing him. In 2013, an elephant killed Mary Ngugi as she fetched firewood in the same forest. Now it is feared that locals might have killed a jumbo found in Kithoka in North Imenti, this week. The area teems with elephants in the Imenti forest, where human-animal conflict has raged for years. Kenya Wildlife Service deputy warden Jimnah Partet said angry locals might have killed it as a protest against the damage caused by the jumbos in their farms. Its tusks had been cut-off. Two weeks ago, Clifford Mwenda, was killed by an elephant in Kithoka, Imenti North, as he went home from Ruiri market. Elephants freely roaming the expansive Imenti forest, which is part of the Mt Kenya forest and the Buuri area have killed and injured many before. Imenti North MP Rahim Dawood, recently led residents of Kithoka in a demonstration to protest alleged KWS rangers’ inability to contain the elephants.
Residents of Kaithe, Mukundu and Giaki regions have warned KWS to ensure the elephants don’t trespass to inhabited areas, otherwise they would kill them. “We plant crops but we never harvest because elephants trample on them. We cannot walk around with a peace of mind because elephants lurk in the nearby forest. If KWS do not stop their animals from killing people, we are going to hunt them down and do the same,” said Dennis Mutuma, a Kiirua farmer. Dawood urges KWS to expedite erection of an electric fence along Mt Kenya forest area from Maara sub-county in Tharaka Nithi county adding the fence be extended to Imenti North, to prevent elephants from leaving the forest. KWS officials say some of the deaths are as a result of carelessness by locals who go into forests claims Dawood refutes. “Locals use public roads along the forests. KWS should put barriers in the forest to keep their elephants in.” “Our people require food assistance because elephants destroyed crops. The trumpeting of the animals is also causing cows to produce very little amounts of milk in the morning, because they are scared. Farmers cannot deliver milk to dairies or shops because of fear,” said Dawood.