Kenya: Increased Hippo Attacks at Lakes Victoria, Naivasha Point to Crisis

Attacks by hippos and crocodiles have increased sharply recently around Lake Naivasha and the Lake Victoria region calling the attention of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) over the emerging human-wildlife crisis around the water points.

Last Wednesday, a man was mauled to death at central landing beach on the shores of Lake Naivasha as he tried to catch some fish, bringing to eight, the number of people killed by the marauding animals since January.

On May 9, KWS management put the official figure at six, but two others have been killed since then and several others seriously injured.

Seasoned lake operator and Boat Owners Association chairman David Kilo put the number of those mauled by the nocturnal animals at 20.

PERMANENT INJURIES

"We have so many unreported cases and at least one person is being attacked each week with some of them suffering permanent injuries," he revealed.

Among the latest victims of the hippo attacks are Nelson Wekesa and James Ndirangu who were mauled on May 14 as they went about their fishing at Kasarani area in the northern part of the lake.

"Unfortunately, Ndirangu never survived, while Mr Wekesa is nursing life threatening injuries," said local youth leader Joseph Kajesh.

Pushed to the wall by the hard economic times due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, youth have flocked Lake Naivasha in an effort to earn a living.

With an increasing number of idle and jobless youth, some have ventured into fishing without the necessary skills to navigate the dangerous waters and the end results have been catastrophic.

"We have unlicensed fishermen flocking the lake in numbers. For now, it appears to be their only source of livelihood despite the inherent dangers," said Mr Kilo.

"This is the highest number of people killed by hippos in a span of a few days and the situation, if left unchecked, could worsen," he added.

Some of the illegal fishers are teens hooked to a potentially dangerous venture as they strive to earn a stipend.

A walk around the shores of Lake Naivasha lays bare the activities of the teenagers either standing or sitting precariously on the edges, armed with makeshift fishing rods.

With raised water levels, the population of different fish species has rapidly increased, making it easier for foot fishers to carry out prohibited fishing activities.

"Oblivious of the fragile terrain, fuelled by obvious naivety, the youngsters continue endangering their lives," said Lake Naivasha Riparian Association manager Cyrus Wanjala

He blamed a ready market that ensures that those involved in the illegal activity have an extra coin.

ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES

"The increased illegal activities are fuelling the human-wildlife conflict and is something that both levels of government must come out strongly and address," said Mr Wanjala.

In February, three people, including a foreign tourist were mauled by hippos among them a youngster fishing on the shores of Lake Naivasha and Lake Oloiden.

In the first incident, a youth using a rod was attacked by a hippo at Karagita beach. He died on the spot. Less than a week later, another one died after a boat capsized at Lake Oloiden

The youthful fisherman was with two others who were navigating across the small lake when their vessel was hit by a hippo.

Aquatic biologist Mbogo Kamau attributed the current phenomenon to the receding pristine land and lack of critical habitat.

"The decreasing grazing areas caused by the increasing water levels and encroachment have led to the current conflict," he said.

Nakuru County Fisheries officer Mathew Ngila admitted that the rising number of unlicensed fishermen was a thorn in the fresh and contributing to increased attacks.

"We remain relentless and with assistance from the Beach Management Unit (BMU) tasked to deal with lake surveillance, we are keen on curbing the vice," he said.

Currently, Mr Ngila said, the lake has 170 licensed fishermen, with the number excluding the foot fishers and other illegal groups.

KWS senior warden Dickson Ritan warned illegal fishermen against encroaching areas inhabited by the animals.

CROCODILES INCREASED

Around the Lake Victoria region, attacks by hippos and crocodiles have increased sharply over the past four months and are attributed to the rising water levels.

Across Kisumu, Homa Bay, Siaya and Migori counties, the Lake Victoria back-flow has resulted in increased cases of human-wildlife conflict, with freely roaming herds of hippos forcing the residents to an early curfew, as several lives are lost.

Crocodiles are also on the prowl, moving even closer to the shorelines as the edges of the lake continue to eat into its edges.

The latest attack involved a 16-year-old student at Kamser Nyagowa village in Homa Bay.

"For the last four months, the hippos have been terrorizing residents and making it impossible for fishermen to run their errands during the evening," said a resident, Mr Antipas Olweny.

"The lake is our only source of water and it has become very difficult for women and children to fetch water as well as watering our animals," he added.

Due to prolonged rains that have caused flooding in the neighbouring village of Kimira, the hippos have extended their invasion, destroying crops such as maize, beans and sweet potatoes.

Kamser Nyakongo location Chief Mr Michael Odie appealed to KWS to take action before the situation gets out of hand.

The Form Two student of Gendia High School Joshua Odongo is said to have been attacked last Saturday while taking bath next to his home at Kofwa area.

"The boy was lucky to have survived but is undergoing treatment at Homa Bay County hospital after a hippo gouged his buttocks and badly severed his private part," he said.

In another incident, an 18-year-old girl was last week killed by a hippopotamus while fetching water from Lake Victoria at Nyandiwa beach in Gwasi West location in Suba Sub-County.

DRAWING WATER

The same hippo also attacked and seriously injured a 13-year-old girl who was drawing water from the lake at the same beach.

The deceased, a Form Three student at St Anthony Nyandiwa Mixed secondary identified as Dorine Eurelia Onyango was carrying a water bucket on her head.

"We are scared because we encounter hippos every day since the water levels in the lake started rising. There's coming a time when the animals will start attacking people on land," Said Suba South Beach Management Unit Network chairman William Onditi who called on KWS to tame hippos amid increased threats to lives.

Karachuonyo Central MCA Julius Gaya says more than ever before, more people are encountering hippos as they go about their daily activities at home.

He has asked KWS to station a response team on the ground to be able to quickly respond to distress calls following increased invasion.

"There should be officers on standby to tame the animals whenever they move out of the water. The officers can use their guns to scar them back to the water because civilians don't have the ability to do so because we don't have weapons," he said.

The county KWS officer Ms Millicent Ondudo says cases of hippo attacks have increasingly been reported along the beaches in Rachuonyo North, Suba and Mbita.

Reports by Macharia Mwangi, Victor Raballa and George Odiwuor

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