Life and death in African savannah

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Nairobi: Kenya enjoys distinctive, vast areas of savannah plains, a variety of natural reserves and different species of animals, which allow the African country to organise unique safaris for tourists.

However, everything comes at a price, as recent years witnessed a rise in the number of wild animal attacks on humans, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Kenya has several natural reserves, such as the Tsavo National Park, a habitat for wild animals such as lions, leopards and elephants, which does not demarcate its territory with man-made boundaries. Other reserves suffer from the same problem, such as Lamu, Amboseli, Laikipia, Narok and Masai Mara.

KWS director William Kiprono told Efe news agency that incidents of animal attacks during the last year emerged in new areas such as Makueni and Kajiado.

Variables such as the rapid evolution in the lifestyles of local communities, population growth, increased infrastructure and extensive agricultural land or grazing usage have led to an escalation of conflict between humans and animals.

“Elephants are losing their habitat due to the increase of human population and their uncontrollable activities, especially agriculture and burning coal,” Kiprono explained, adding that daily incidents of conflict between humans and animals are common, such as damage to water infrastructure, fences and farmland, and even fatalities.

A representative from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Jacqueline Nyagah, told Efe that maze crops ready to be harvested get destroyed practically overnight when invaded by a herd of wild animals.

At the same time, there have been cases of local residents and tourists being killed in attacks by elephants, lions, buffaloes, cheetahs and crocodiles.

So far this year, at least three people have been killed in elephant attacks, while a railway construction worker survived an attack by a leopard and its offspring near Tsavo.

In total, over 200 people were killed in elephant attacks over the past five years, according to figures released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The WWF suggested that large herbivores such as elephants, buffaloes or hippos, and carnivores such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and crocodiles are among the most likely species to attack.

The IFAW has cooperated with the KWS since 2012 to control the movements of elephants in the Amboseli National Park, knowing that these animals have caused significant destruction to infrastructure, especially during dry seasons, January through March, and July through October.

Nyagah explained that elephants are controlled through satellite connected bracelets that enable their detection, which facilitates deploying security personnel and mitigating further accidents.

The KWC also announced the creation of “elephant watchers” and recruited “community monitor” patrols, which observe animal movements during the months of drought, when elephants and other animals seek new water sources and therefore are more likely to venture into areas populated by humans.

Around 200 km from the Nairobi National Park, lions are fitted with tracking collars, and local residents say they live in fear that the animals might leap over the fences of the natural reserve and attack them and their livestock.

However, when humans defend their water systems, livestock or farms, the animals often end up as the victims of attacks.

According to the WWF, Kenyan authorities responsible for wildlife shoot between 50 and 120 elephants every year.

On the other hand, the KWS points out that escalating conflict between animals and humans represents a challenge in 2015 which must be addressed by “promoting positive interaction” between both sides.

Digging new water wells and establishing new and broader wildlife corridors are among other proposed solutions.

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