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Crocodiles leave villagers in tears

Sunday May 23 2010

A crocodile attacks a wildebeest as it crosses the Mara river during a migration in Masaai Mara game reserve, 270 km (165 miles) southwest of capital Nairobi, July 28, 2009. Photo/REUTERS

A crocodile attacks a wildebeest as it crosses the Mara river during a migration in Masaai Mara game reserve, 270 km (165 miles) southwest of capital Nairobi, July 28, 2009. Photo/FILE 

By MARK AGUTU

Garsen MP Danson Mungatana has often boasted that his constituents are tough enough to hunt down crocodiles and feast on them. But now the reverse seems to be true.

The marauding reptiles of River Tana are killing villagers, particularly women, for whom fetching water is a daily chore. At just six months, baby Dokota Habechu is learning to cope without a mother’s love. He now clings desperately to his grandmother Hewo Omar ever since River Tana’s crocodiles robbed him of his mother over a month ago.

Ms Huko Habechu, had on the morning of April 5, walked to the banks of the river where Bilisa village women draw water for domestic use. She was snatched and dragged into the depths of the river by a huge crocodile. Not even her clothes were recovered by the scores of villagers who scoured the river several miles downstream.

Baby Dokota and two siblings, Golo, 3, and Amina, 2, were left orphans. In the same village, Mr Batefu Hanti, 40, and his five children are still in mourning. A fortnight ago, his wife Dhiramu Batefu was snatched by the beasts as she collected water from the now notorious Malka point.

Prepared lunch

Mr Batefu recalls how his wife had prepared lunch and served the family before she set off for the river. “She was very happy as she left home. She called one of our daughters to accompany her with another water container,” Mr Batefu recalls. Mrs Batefu waded into the shallow water, filled her jerrican and carried it out to the shore.

She turned back to the water to wash the container top and that is when the crocodile struck. “It splashed her with water and grabbed and pulled her into the deep water,” he said. His daughter and the villagers who saw the attack remember seeing the crocodile emerge from the depths for a few seconds, its prey in its mouth, before finally vanishing — a macabre last ritual the crocodiles always perform, according to the villagers.

More brazen

Mrs Batefu’s remains have never been recovered for burial. The responsibility of raising the five children now rests on the shoulders of Mr Batefu and his eldest daughter Muslima, just 15. When the Nation visited Bilisa in Garsen Division, it found a village still in sorrow and bitterness — sorrow because of the loss of the two mothers and wives, and bitter because of their apparent helplessness in the face of the attacks which seem to get more brazen with each passing day.

Word that journalists had visited Bilisa and Hurera villages quickly spread, and more residents turned up with additional tales of attacks by the crocodiles or ngwena, as the villagers prefer to call them. Mzee Omaro Molu, showed the Nation his own scars following an attack by crocodiles way back in 1981.

Though he escaped with his life after a group of villagers came to his rescue and battled the beast, he was left crippled after the animal refused to let go of his leg for quite a while. Villagers say crocodile attacks have sharply risen in the last year, with six people killed and those lucky to escape left injured.

Those bearing the brunt of the attacks are women, who frequent the river to draw water or wash clothes. Matters have not been helped by the breakdown of the village borehole which had helped reduce the number of trips to the river. “We are asking well-wishers to repair for us the borehole. Crocodiles will finish our people,” pleads Mzee Dube Molu.

The villagers also want the Kenya Wildlife Service to intervene. Ms Annette Ng’ethe, World Vision’s Disaster Risk Reduction officer in Tana Delta urged KWS to mark out areas that are crocodile-infested and inform the locals. Garsen district officer Alex Kiogora said although a number of crocodile attacks was spontaneous, sometimes the villagers provoked the beasts by entering the breeding grounds to get prized crocodile eggs.