8 December 2010

Kenya: Residents Panic Over New Wave of Buffalo Attacks

Nairobi — The killing of a 14-year-old boy by a rogue buffalo has rekindled debate on human-wildlife conflict.

The teenager was herding cattle when he was ambushed by the beast that had strayed from a ranch at Tangi Tatu, Moi Ndabi.

The attack occurred barely a fortnight after another that left Kenya Wildlife Service rangers in a daze.

The officers, who were hunting a rogue buffalo in Loldia near Naivasha Town, watched in disbelief as the animal gored a flower farmer and his guard to death.

The victims were part of an ambush team led by the rangers to track down and kill the animal.

The group was moving in a single file with the rangers in front, followed by the farmer, Mr Richard Hopcraft, and his two guards.

At the back was another KWS warden to ensure safety of the middle pack. They entered the thicket, breathing subdued. They moved stealthily, lest they attract the wrath of the wounded beast.

But the animal was faster. It sprung from the bush with speed and guile, flooring the two. Not even a shot fired by one of the rangers could stop the ferocious animal in its tracks.

In a split second, the farmer lay dead, with his guard succumbing to injuries a few minutes latter. In the ensuing confusion, the animal disappeared into the bushes.

Mr Hopcraft was at the scene to assist the KWS personnel trace the animal, having spotted it moments earlier near his farm.

The incident sent shockwaves in the area, with residents restricted to their houses to avert more attacks. There was a sigh of relief when the animal was killed a day later.

The Loldia ambush occurred barely two months after a 65-year-old woman was attacked by a buffalo in Elementaita.

"She was trying to stop the animals from invading her farm when she was attacked," a social worker, Ms Karobia Kiratu, said.

The woman was taken to the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital where she incurred a big bill.

In April, a 30-year-old fishmonger was gored at Banda near Lake Naivasha.Mr Francis Mboka was cycling to the lake when he was attacked.

"The animal emerged from the bush and charged towards me," he said, adding: "The animal could have killed me were it not for a passer-by who rescued me."

He lost consciousness and woke up at the hospital. His brush with death left him shaken and stunned. "It was a scary experience. In fact I thank God for the miraculous escape," Mr Mboka says.

Dr Joseph Mburu, the medical superintendent in charge of the Naivasha District Hospital, said he attended to another victim in June.

"He suffered leg injuries and was treated and discharged," he said. However, Naivasha district warden, Mr Fredrick Nyibule, told the Nation that cases of human-wildlife conflict were on the decline, "according to the Occurrence Book". Mr Nyibule termed the killings as "unfortunate and sad."

He blamed the attacks on encroachment of the riparian zones and human settlement on areas previously occupied by the wild animals. The government pays Sh200,000 for every life lost to a wild animal. The compensation committee is chaired by the district commissioner.

A Bill awaiting debate in Parliament seeks to increase the amount to Sh1 million. Those injured by wild animals are compensated depending on the extent of their injuries.

Experts say the buffalo is one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. It is a vicious beast that charges at humans seemingly for fun. Big game hunters cherish them for their malicious history.

These animals spend their time grazing in herds, but lone males are known to stray from the group now and then. "They see man as a predator, so when they see one, they charge at him -- 680kg and all -- and use their horns for stabbing.

"It is said that when wounded by a hunter, they pursue him until either the buffalo or the hunter is dead," according to Scienceray.com.

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