In Mairo-inya village, Peter Kairu’s grave is slowly being swallowed up by the earth as relatives wait for compensation from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) over three years since the 33-year-old trader was killed by a hippo. Mr Kairu was in the company of his friend Wambugu Mwangi when tragedy struck.
“We were walking home at around 9 in the evening when the hippo attacked us. I managed to escape but my friend was not as lucky. He died a very painful death; that was in January 2018,” he said.
Mr Kairu’s grave is not the only one resulting from a hippo killing in this village.
Several people living around Lake Olbolosatt in Nyandarua County have either been killed or bear scars that are a constant reminder of attacks by hippos. Some have had to move from their land because of fear.
The human-wildlife conflict affecting residents around the 43-square-kilometre freshwater body covering Ndaragua, Ol Joro Orok, and Ol Kalou constituencies is so intense that farmers abandon their farms for casual jobs in towns, while others desperately seek to sell their land and relocate to safer places.
The situation is largely blamed on managerial conflicts between the county and national governments, through KWS.
Though KWS is primarily responsible for controlling human-wildlife conflict, residents and the county government feel that the agency has failed in its mandate. The county government has decided to breach protocol in order to protect residents.
The county department of roads has brought construction equipment to the area, digging trenches meant to stop the stray hippos from attacking residents and invading farms.
“We are spending Sh392,000 using county roads equipment, which is a worthy investment considering the sufferings our people have gone through over the years. It would have cost us Sh1.5 million to contract a private company to do the same amount of work, not to mention the procurement process that would have taken longer as residents continue to suffer,” said Roads and Public Works Executive Mary Mugwanja.
The eight-kilometre trench being dug by the Nyandarua County government along the border of the lake and Kanguu village is to be completed in two weeks after a similar one covering 12 kilometres was completed in March this year.
Residents are optimistic the county government’s intervention will end decades of suffering from human-wildlife conflict. They said the initiative was long overdue.
Among the latest incidents that prompted the county government to act was the hippo attack on Mr Samuel Kimani, who is still nursing serious injuries at Nyahururu Hospital from the May 23 attack in his Gatumbiro village, Ol Joro Orok Constituency.
Speaking from his hospital bed, the 55-year-old man said he was on his way to work when the hippo attacked him early in the morning.
“I was left for the dead after the animal pounced on me about 100 metres from my home. I tried to run for my life on spotting the hippos but they were faster than me,” the farmer said.
Mr Kimani suffered serious cuts on his shoulders and legs.
Residents raised concerns about the safety of their children, saying the hippos are normally spotted in the farms in the early morning when learners report to school.
“The security of our children is at stake. We want the school management boards and the education ministry to change the hour of reporting to class to eight in the morning,” Ms Mary Njeri said.
In September last year, athlete Edwin Mokua, 28, missed the Izimir Marathon after he was attacked, injured and left for dead by marauding hippos.
He was attacked while training along River Ewaso Nyiro, whose source is Lake Olbolosatt.
The athlete was training in preparation for the competitions that were to be held in Turkey less than a week from the day he was attacked.
Another recent victim is Mr Mathew Kipkurui, who was admitted to Nyahururu Hospital and later moved to Nakuru General Hospital.
He was attacked while on his way to work early in the morning.
“Every year, we lose both humans and hippos. Hippos, like human beings, belong to big families. They do communicate. Seven hippos from the lake have been killed in retaliatory attacks in the last one year. The hippos do interact and inform the others of the killings happening to them. You will realise that hippos become more aggressive when one of them is killed or attacked,” says Ol Bolosat Conservancy chairperson George Nguri.
Increasing cases of human-wildlife conflict are also attributed to the encroachment of wildlife habitats by residents.
KWS statistics show that compensation demands have risen from Sh147 million in 2015 to Sh569 million in 2020.
In a stakeholders’ forum in October last year at the KWS Training College in Naivasha, Wildlife Principal Secretary Fred Segor said the government had by that time spent Sh1.77 billion to compensate victims of wildlife attacks.
Governor Francis Kimemia says his administration is pursuing compensation for the hippo attack victims and farm invasions by the beasts.