Kenya: Sh200 Million Electric Fence Around Forest Keeps Laikipia Farmers Happy

For many years, residents of Laikipia West, Laikipia County, have suffered huge losses from wild animals invading their homes and farms.

Marauding elephants, monkeys, baboons, hyenas and sometimes lions would descend on farms, leaving a trail of destruction and sometimes death.

But a 53km electric fence installed by the government two years ago along the Rumuruti-Marmanet forest has greatly reduced human-wildlife conflicts in the region.

The five-foot-high fence that cost Sh200 million was put up by the government following numerous complaints about ever-rising cases of human-wildlife conflicts in the area.

The high-voltage fence has played a major role in keeping animals and humans separate.

Spokes keep away elephants and other wild animals by electrocuting them when they go near the fence.

A visit by the Nation to the region has established that the fence has greatly reduced human-wildlife conflict in Lorian, Makenji, Gatundia, Sironi, Limunga, and Gwa Ken villages and other places bordering the forest.

Several residents we spoke to said the fence had deterred wildlife from reaching their farms and they can breathe a sigh of relief.

"Since 2019, cases of wild animals invading our farms, which normally occurred during the wee hours of the night, have reduced greatly," said Samuel Kiptoo, a resident of Makenji.

"Elephants came in herds and destroyed crops on farms. The constant attacks from wild animals meant we could not do any meaningful farming."

Mr Kiptoo used to take home between 10 and 12 sacks of maize from his one-acre farm because most of it would be destroyed by elephants, monkeys and baboons. But he now harvests at least 25 sacks.

"The fence, which acts as a buffer between the forest and neighbouring villages, has helped keep off the beasts. Initially farming around this forest was a herculean task," he said.

Mr Kiptoo is not alone. Another farmer, Joseph Kamau, from Gatundia, recalls days when he and other villagers would camp near their farms to stop elephants from destroying their crops.

"We spent sleepless nights around bonfires to keep off the jumbos. However, sometimes they still managed to sneak onto farms, causing massive destruction. We thank the government for the fence. Now we can sleep comfortably," he said.

Translocation of elephants

However, Ruth Chelang'at, a resident of McKenzie, said wild animals still sneak from the expansive forest through the fence into their farms.

She said that due to unsteady electricity supply, animals, especially elephants, monkeys and baboons, manage to breach the fence and reach their farms, where they destroy crops.

"The fence is a good initiative, but I call upon the government to ensure it has a steady supply of electricity to deter the animals from making their way out of the forest," she said.

Kenya Wildlife Service officers' response whenever animals attacked their farms was slow, they said.

They said wild animals were still straying onto people's farms and destroying crops worth millions of shillings.

Farmers in the region have often lost livestock and crops to elephants and other wild animals.

Several people have also been killed in Laikipia West and other parts of the county by marauding wild animals.

Residents in the county initially demanded the translocation of elephants from the forest to conservancies in Laikipia North, away from human settlements.

Despite complaints from locals, Laikipia West Senior KWS Warden John Ngaria still insists that efforts addressing human-wildlife conflicts in the area have borne fruit.

"KWS is committed to ending human-wildlife conflicts in Laikipia West and other parts of the county. So far, the fence has worked and we intend to seal other loopholes to keep off wildlife," he told Nation.Africa.

Mr Ngaria also noted that the long-term solution to the conflicts includes mapping routes that elephants use as migratory corridors in the county.

Laikipia County Commissioner Daniel Nyamiti urged residents to report to chiefs and their assistants when they spot animals in their localities for immediate action.

He noted that this would help in making sure that no one is injured by the animals.

Mr Nyamiti also called on residents to report any cases of human-wildlife conflict so that they can be compensated.

"It is our plea that residents seeking honey and firewood in the forest keep off at this peak season when the elephants are out taking advantage of the maturing maize," he said.

The construction of the fence around the expansive forest was launched in 2015 by the Laikipia governor at the time, Joshua Irungu.

Officials set aside Sh96.7 million for the fence, but the project stalled four months later, after the completion of the first section covering 20km.

Walk freely

The county government would later advertise the tender to continue building the fence after cancelling the initial contract, claiming the contractor was involved in malpractices.

But the company sued and the High Court in Nanyuki issued an order stopping the county government from readvertising the tender.

The fence was meant to benefit residents of Mahianyu, Pesi, Salama, Gatundia and Rwathia in Laikipia West.

Earlier this year, residents of areas adjacent to the forest were cautioned against interfering with the fence.

Governor Ndiritu Muriithi cautioned vandals who had destroyed the fence to reach grazing land, saying these actions were compromising efforts to minimise human-wildlife conflict.

"You don't have to destroy the fence to get access to grass. Go to the forest officers or where access can be granted instead of just invading the forest," he said.

"This project is a relief to our people as they can now walk freely and engage in their development activities without any fear of attacks by wild animals."

The county boss noted that the county had partnered with KWS to increase the number of fence attendants to mend it when animals damage it.

Laikipia County is touted as one of Africa's most exhilarating wilderness safari and wildlife tourism destinations, with a combination of abundant wildlife, stunning scenery and extraordinarily rich biodiversity. The region attracts thousands of local and international tourists annually.

The region is home to over 6,000 elephants.

Most of the county, especially Laikipia North, is covered by expansive wildlife conservancies and ranches.

The fence project was a collaboration between the national government and the county to help keep wild animals away from residents' farms and reduce human-wildlife conflict.

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