Park Boundary Review is necessary in averting Human-Wildlife Conflict in Taita Taveta

A cheetah strayed into a residential area of Voi town on the morning of Saturday 25th July. Luckily, nobody was attacked by the animal before it was captured by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

 

The daytime incident highlights why wildlife authorities should address human-wildlife conflict before human life is lost. The cheetah strayed almost two kilometres from the boundary of the Tsavo National Park to Kaloleni estate where it was caught. It is extremely rare for wild animals to venture into that part of Voi town.

 

Boniface Ndolo, an electrician in Kaloleni was in his workshop when he saw the cheetah sauntering past. “It was unbelievable because it is not something you expect to see.” he says. “There was a crowd of people running behind the cheetah. The animal seemed afraid and looking for somewhere to hide. It found a building under construction and hid inside. By then, KWS wardens had arrived fully armed. They tried to force the cheetah out of it’s hiding place. It escaped. Meanwhile, other wardens were trying to keep the growing crowd of people out of the cheetah’s way.”

 

A boda boda operator who witnessed the incident said the cheetah emerged from the Mazeras side before crossing the road into Kaloleni. “It looked like it was scared but it did not attack anybody,” he said. Witnesses say the cheetah was cornered in a residential compound. None could say for certain whether the cheetah was killed or tranquilized.

 

There are parts of Voi where human-wildlife conflict is a regular occurrence. Leopards are known to prowl Mwakingali and Mabomani areas at night while hunting. Residents have lost livestock to lions, leopards, hyenas and other wild animals. The highlight of this dangerous trend was in December 2018 when an elephant went right inside the Voi Police Station compound after crossing past Mwakingali. If the elephant had ventured another hundred metres or so from the police station, it would have been right in the CBD.

 

Leopards seem to have a particular preference for dogs, as Mwakingali residents have noted. Scientists say leopards are attracted to dogs, not because of anything special in dog meat, but because dogs are easy to catch. A single domestic dog is no match for a leopard. Given the fact that obtaining dog meat in residential areas carries little or no risk for the leopards, it’s not surprising they are taking advantage of the situation.

 

The situation in Voi town mirrors that elsewhere in Taita Taveta where human-wildlife conflict is a fact of life. With Tsavo National Park occupying about 62% of Taita Taveta county, human-wildlife conflict is not surprising. The human population is growing and extending close to conservation areas. Voi town is a good example. Many of the residential areas close to the park did not exist a decade ago.

The problem of human-wildlife conflict is a national problem. The solution has therefore to come from national government institutions such as KWS.

The problem of human-wildlife conflict is a national problem. The solution has therefore to come from national government institutions such as KWS. Human-wildlife conflict is very acute in Taita Taveta County because of the size of the national park. In the medium term, it will be necessary to review the boundaries of the park to accommodate the growing human population. The park was created in 1948 when the population in the entire Taita Taveta was less than 100,000. The 2019 census puts the population at 340,671 meaning more land is needed for urban areas, farming and grazing.

 

KWS is required to pay compensation for deaths, destruction of property and loss of livestock caused by wildlife. The process of applying for compensation is so long and tedious that most people give up along the way. The slow pace of compensation means that wildlife conservation does not bear the financial penalties arising from loss of human life and destruction of property.

PHOTO:COURTESY

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