The Star (Nairobi)

4 May 2011

Kenya: Villagers' Relief As Widllife Service Effort Ends Tsavo Elephant Terror

THE KWS has successfully driven back the more than 500 stray elephants that had terrorized residents of Mwakitau location in Taita Taveta County in the past two weeks. Jumbos from the Tsavo West National Park and the adjacent Lumo community sanctuary broke out in search of water and pasture.

Acording to the Tsavo West senior warden, Samuel Rukaria, a team of Problem Animal Control Unit experts from Nanyuki took a week to heard the jumbos back to the park.

Rukaria said more than 50 PACU rangers had been deployed in the area to drive the animals away from farmers and had sparked off fear. He said that the KWS was doing everything possible to ensure that the persistent human-wildlife conflict ends.

The warden challenged farmers to take advantage of the availability of wildlife in the area and invest in hotels. "We call on local leaders and residents to stop seeing the wildlife as an enemy but take advantage and reap from it by investing in tourism businesses like hotels and wildlife conservancies which attract tourists," said Rukaria.

He said that tourism contributes immensely to Kenya's economy and called on the residents to diversify their activities from agriculture to tourism.

Rukaria expressed concern over the politicizing of the operation by a section of local leaders who have been instilling fear by insisting the animals had not returned back to the park. "Yesterday we boarded a helicopter with some of the area chiefs and councillors who have been saying that the elephants had not returned to the park so that they can see for themselves the job we have done," he added.

Rukaria said that all the jumbos had been driven back to the park and that his officers will be on the ground to monitor the movement of the jumbos and called on the residents to remain calm.

Residents of Mwakitau location and villages bordering Tsavo West National Park and the Lumo community sanctuary were forced to remain indoors for the better part of last week following the week-long operation by the KWS.

More than the 500 marauding elephants from Tsavo West National park and the Lumo Community sanctuary had sparked fear and terror among the residents who called on the intervention of the KWS.

The jumbos had invaded five villages in Taita Taveta County and terrorised residents and were reported to have attacked people and destroyed more than 100 acres of crops. He said the affected villages included Marungu, Mwanda, Msorongo, Mwakitau and Chakaleri, all in Mwatate district.

Mwakitau chief Chrispus Mnyika said farmers were counting loses after their pawpaw's, maize, beans and cow peas were ruined. "Our hopes of getting good yields this season are doomed since most of our crops have been destroyed by the marauding elephants," said the chief.

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