Kenya: Senators Summon Balala, Keter After Electrocution of Giraffes

25 February 2021

The Senate has summoned Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and his Energy counterpart Charles Keter over last weekend's electrocution of three giraffes at the Soysambu conservancy in Nakuru County.

Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka directed the two to appear before the Senate next week, after Vihiga Senator George Khaniri demanded an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the incident.

"I hereby direct that the Cabinet Secretaries for Tourism and Energy appear before the Senate to explain the circumstances that led to the death of the endangered Rothschild's giraffes," said Speaker Lusaka.

Outrage

Mr Khaniri earlier sought to have Mr Balala and Mr Keter to appear before the Senate and provide an explanation over the incident that has attracted outrage from leaders and conservationists.

"It will be unfortunate for this negligence to go unpunished Mr Speaker. In addition, all the concerned ministries should jointly undertake an audit of the safety of all conservancies and wildlife corridors," said Khaniri.

Nairobi Senator Johnstone Sakaja and Makueni's Mutula Kilonzo also demanded an explanation about the incident.

"The Rothschild's giraffes are only 1,600 in the world and about 38 per cent are in Kenya. We can't allow this kind of negligence to continue," said Senator Sakaja.

Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot also demanded that CS Balala further gives an elaborate report on the controversial death of 10 rhinos in 2018.

Kenya Power

The animals were among 14 black rhinos being transported from Nairobi National Park to the country's biggest national park, Tsavo East.

Despite Kenya Power regretting last weekend's incident at Soysambu conservancy, Senators on Wednesday expressed outrage over the death of the giraffes, and want the company to take full responsibility for what they termed as negligence.

This comes as Climate Change Awareness Kenya, an environmental conservation organisation, demanded action to ensure wildlife corridors remain uninterrupted across wildlife habitats in Kenya.

The body has also demanded an audit to ensure wildlife corridors at animal sanctuaries are not blocked.

"It has come to our attention that the Kenya Power officials who visited Soysambu conservancy after the incident just raised the height of the low hanging power lines. This, we believe, will not solve the problem as birds of prey and flamingos will still be electrocuted as they fly by. Since 2019, we have lost at least 11 giraffes out of which some are the endangered Rothschild's giraffes. We demand immediate action," said a statement signed by the organisation's Chief Executive Officer Jackson Kinyanjui.

The organisation has called for the resignation of Tourism CS Balala following the incident.

"Lest we forget, the impact of constructing infrastructure within wildlife habitats cost Kenya last year after 300 wildebeests died after their habitat was blocked by a tourist camp in the Maasai Mara. The other incident in 2020 was the botched plan by KWS to construct a road within the Nairobi National Park. This habit of interfering with animal corridors must be stopped," said Mr Kinyanjui.

Kenya Power, after the incident, said it had begun the process of enhancing clearance of electricity distribution infrastructure at Soysambu Conservancy so as to forestall a recurrence of the unfortunate incident where the Rothschild's giraffes were electrocuted.

"KP is undertaking the exercise in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Soysambu management, which will also involve an audit of the entire infrastructure within the conservancy to make more rectifications," said Mr Bernard Ngugi, Kenya Power Managing Director.

"We regret the incident because we recognise that wildlife forms an integral part of our natural and cultural psyche. We will use the lessons gleaned to avoid a recurrence ," he said.

Electrocution of the giraffes has also lifted the lid on how animal corridors at the conservancy and the neighbourhood have been blocked.

Animal corridors

Among the affected areas include Soysambu, the stretch along the Nakuru-Naivasha highway, the Lake Nakuru, Elementaita and Naivasha ecosystems.

The Nation has established that several animal corridors have been interfered with by human activities, thereby limiting free movement of wildlife.

Human activities around the animal sanctuaries include clearing of forests and natural habitats for farming, fencing along wildlife corridors, development activities including installation of electricity among others.

As a result, surrounding areas have in the past experienced human-wildlife conflicts because animals strain to feed as well as move freely.

The closure of wildlife migration corridors along the stretch has in the past led to a number of wild animals straying along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway and Naivasha-Maai Mahiu road.

Sometimes vehicles collide with animals; sometimes drivers swerve to avoid them, causing accidents.

According to a source from Kenya Wildlife Service, the electrocution of giraffes within the conservancy is among several incidents that have been reported over the years.

"The electrocution of the giraffes is just one of the incidents that have occurred as a result of blocking of wildlife corridors. Last week, over 50 flamingos were electrocuted in Soysambu by an old electricity line from Olkaria to Suswa. The incident happened near Lake Elementaita. Several birds of prey have also been killed, "said the source, which sought anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The Olkaria-Lessos-Kisumu power line running close to lake Lake Elementaita, operated by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO), has also been marked as an emerging death trap for birds using the site as a habitat or a migratory corridor.

Questions still abound as to why Kenya Power installed electricity power lines within the conservancy and along animal corridors in the first place.

It is also not clear why they have not taken action in the past, leading to the loss of 11 giraffes.

Several conservationists have demanded action by the relevant ministries of Tourism, Environment and Energy.

Soysambu Conservancy is one of the few sanctuaries alongside Lake Nakuru National Park and Ruko Conservancy that hosts rare giraffes whose populations have been on the decline.

Soysambu conservancy currently hosts a population of acout 124 giraffes.

Among them are about 50 males, 41 females and 33 calves.

Recently, some of the endangered Rothschild's giraffes were relocated from Ruko conservancy in Baringo to Soysambu.

The main types of giraffes at the Soysambu conservancy are Nubian and the endangered Rothschild.

The Soysambu Conservancy was created in 2007 as an entity to conserve the flora, fauna and scenery of Soysambu Ranch, which is in Gilgil Sub-county.

The conservancy borders Elementaita in the south in the area around Mawe Mbili.

On the west, it shares a boundary of 12.1 km with Lake Nakuru National Park.

A report released three years ago by the Ministry of Environment revealed that most wildlife dispersal areas and migratory corridors are under threat.

Animal corridors have been interfered with by human activities and some have been blocked, said the Wildlife Migratory Corridors and Dispersal Areas report, released on July 26, 2017.

Fifty-eight migratory routes and corridors were identified in the report.

It called for the mapping and securing of wildlife corridors as a strategy for reducing human-wildlife conflict and promoting environmental sustainability and equitable social development.

Among the affected areas mentioned at the time were the Mau Eburu forest that forms part of the wider Rift Valley ecosystem and conservation area encompassing lakes Nakuru, Elementaita and Naivasha, the Soysambu Conservancy and the Mt Longonot and Hell's Gate national parks.

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