New twist to human-wildlife conflict

Wednesday February 14 2018

Waterpoints are few and far between and after fetching water , the women risk being attacked by monkeys and baboons. PHOTO | PAUL  LETIWA

Waterpoints are few and far between and after fetching water , the women risk being attacked by monkeys and baboons. PHOTO | PAUL  LETIWA 

By PAUL LETIWA
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Nadutari Masaine was walking home from a water point with a jerrican of water when three baboons appeared. She tried to shoo them away but one of them jumped from a nearby tree and grabbed her jerrican. She fled, leaving her jerrican behind.

In another incident, a troop of thirsty monkeys attacked young girls at Sait Naudo, stoning, scratching and biting them.  When other villagers answered the girls’ distress calls, the monkeys fought back; they eventually retreated, but only after drinking the water and destroying the girls’ jerricans. 

The two incidents took place just days apart in December last year.

Villagers in a remote part of Lpolei in Laikipia North are complaining about baboons and monkeys stealing water from their makeshift huts in the vast community ranch.

“These monkeys are breaking into houses, stealing food, taking clothes from hanging lines, making loud noises, scaring children and destroying property,” offers Masaine, 45.

The villagers are now afraid to leave their doors or windows open or to let their children go to school or to water points for fear that baboons might attack them. Lpolei village sits in the expansive Naibung’a Conservancy, which covers more than 20,000 acres. The villagers say the baboons like their huts because they provide easy access to shelter, food and water. And they don’t fear humans.

“The major problem here is water; we hardly get water to drink. The only borehole is several kilometres away.  These animals are also feeling the effects of drought. They, too, want water to survive, that is why they are invading our homes and attacking us at water points; if we get plenty of water, this menace will end,” says Mrs Masaine.          

Mr Peter Letair, another Lpolei resident, recalls the day he arrived home one afternoon to see about five monkeys near his house: “They started jumping and making loud noises. I tried to scare them away but they bared their teeth at me. Eventually they left, but they had finished all the water and food in the house.”

NO HELP FROM KWS

 “We have tried to contact the Kenya Wildlife Service, to no avail. I am amused that KWS cannot protect us even from monkeys,” he says, adding that the monkeys tore to shreds all the clothes that were hanging on a clothesline nearby.

Human-wildlife conflict is not new in Laikipia, with reports of animals attacking humans, killing livestock, destroying crops or infrastructure from time to time. But although elephants, hyenas, zebras and lions are also a menace in the area, the residents say baboons are the most destructive. 

Laikipia County, which measures 8,696 kilometres square, is an arid and semi-arid region with the highest wildlife population in Kenya. Besides, it has forested areas that  are not gazetted as wildlife habitats although they host large wildlife populations

Mr Mali ole Kaunga, the director of the Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation (Impact), a policy advocacy and community development organisation based in Nanyuki town, says one way of the reducing the human-wildlife conflict is to solve the water crisis.

“When you look at the history of human-wildlife conflict in Laikipia, it always gets worse during  dry periods.  And it’s largely caused by water crises. Families here hardly get water, they survive on a 20-littre jerrican for days. Impact has  constructed  a few water tanks from which hundreds of households have been drawing water but the drought is back, and so is the human wildlife conflict,” he said during an interview at his office.

The nearest water point is a rainwater tank in Soito Naudo constructed by Impact. It serves  serves hundreds of families in the area and it is on the way from here that troops of thirsty baboons attack women and children to get their water.

APPEAL FOR HELP

Another rainwater tank constructed by  the Catholic church is a further  away, but will last only a few more weeks while a borehole located about 15km from Lpolei Trading Centre is not reliable because  it is prone to damage.

“We are going to construct more tanks to harvest rainwater. We have appealed to well-wishers and donors so that we can sink more boreholes and solve the water problem in this area. Once they get enough water, the residents will have peace and there will be no more monkey attacks,” says Mr Kaunga. Mr Kupes Olegei, the area ward administrator, says the county government is taking monkey menace in the villages seriously.

“We have received several complaints from some parts of Lpolei. We are talking to KWS to see how these monkeys can be tamed,” he says.

Wildlife researchers say that cutting down of trees have left the monkeys with no choice but to look for food in human-occupied areas.  Baboons are also said to generally prefer semi-arid habitats like savannas, but some live in tropical forests. Their major requirements for any environment seem to be water and safe sleeping places, such as trees and cliff faces, and most residents in the affected areas live near trees.