By Sharon Atieno

In August, a herd of elephants broke into a Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) camp in Isiolo County where a group of soldiers were training. As the soldiers took to their heels during the attack, one of them tripped and fell. The elephants pounced on her, seriously injuring the officer. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Similarly, in June, a 55-year-old man was trampled to death in Namelok area of Loitokitok near the Amboseli National Park by a lone bull elephant. The victim was in the company of another younger man when the elephant chased them and managed to trample the old man breaking his limbs and ribs. Despite the intervention of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Human-elephant conflicts (HECs) have become an increasingly common occurrence in Kenya with competition for food and water worsening the situation during the dry periods.

Besides poaching, the Conservation and Management Strategy for the Elephant in Kenya 2012-2021 finds that HEC is emerging as the major threat to elephant conservation in the country.

Kenya is home to 36,280 elephants who belong to the savannah subspecies Loxodonta africana. Massive poaching of ivory had decreased their population from 167,000 in 1973 to 20,000 in 1989, since then their numbers have been steadily increasing.

Elephants are found in both savannahs and forests. The largest range areas for the savannah populations are the Tsavo ecosystem and its environs, and the Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem and contiguous areas to the north. The forest-dwelling populations occur mainly in the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, with small, isolated populations in coastal forests and Mount Elgon. Some areas of the former range, particularly in the northern parts of Kenya, are also being re-occupied due to improved security.

To mitigate HECs, the Conservation and Management report recommends electric fencing among other measures including better land use planning, farm-based early warning and deterrence methods, and ‘control’ shooting.

The use of electric fencing is proving effective, especially in the Naibunga conservancy found along the Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem.

The ecosystem which covers 37,397Km2 is the second-largest elephant range with a population of 7,475 individuals, according to the National Wildlife Census 2021 report. But unlike others in the country, the ecosystem comprises predominantly non-formally protected land units; with the community and private land ownership accounting for 97% of the elephant range, making it a human-dominated landscape.

Naibunga Conservancy covers approximately 466Km2 is made up of nine community lands dominated by the Mukogodo Maasai, who are mainly pastoral, keeping cattle, goats and few camels.

Due to its savannah nature, the conservancy is home to several wildlife species including elephant, wild dog, lion, gerenuk, oryx, buffalo, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Lesser and Greater Kudus, cheetah, leopard, jackal, baboons, regular zebra, and over 400 bird species.

With HEC threatening the lives of human beings and their livestock, some of the community members approached KWS to help build a fence to keep the elephants from invading their land.

KWS partnered with the Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT), a non-governmental organization (NGO) and with support from Italian donors, they were able to erect a 40km electric fence covering 67Km2 within Naibunga conservancy.

The fence is a two-strand electrified fence with strands at about five and a half feet and six feet which allows for livestock, people and other wildlife to pass under the fence. The wires are anchored on well-treated blue gum poles.

The outriggers are four feet in length, leaving over three feet of bottom access for small animals. They initiate from the top strand and extend horizontally from the bottom strand to prevent elephants from accessing the strands and being able to short or break the fence.

The outriggers are rigged down the posts to prevent elephants from accessing the posts to push the fence over.

The earth wire is buried one and a half metres in front of fence posts ensuring the elephant is standing on the earth wire when they touch the live wires so that the maximum possible shock is delivered.

There is also a power station around every seven kilometres to attempt to maintain a minimum voltage of 7 kV along the entire fence. Solar panels are raised on high posts to mitigate theft.

There are at least two gates in each fence, adjacent to the main roads, for the passage of camels.

Danglers have also been set up for lugga crossings to prevent elephants from using luggas to enter the fenced areas. Other wildlife can pass either side of the lugga. All danglers have joints/weights to prevent the danglers from tangling and causing maintenance issues.

Section of the fence in Naibunga conservancy with the outriggers that prevent elephants from trespassing Photo credits: Fredrick Omondi

According to Solomon Lentiranko from Kijabe community land, Naibunga Conservancy, in a period of six months, at least three people would be killed by elephants in the area. However, since 2022 when the fence was erected, there have been no cases reported.

He says that the fence has been of great help to the community because it properly identifies the wildlife corridors thus mitigating human-wildlife conflict.

Additionally, the fence has been able to protect the pods and the seeds of the acacia trees which they depend on for the survival of their animals during dry spells. “Previously, the elephants would invade the land eating all the pods and the seeds of the acacia trees leaving nothing for our livestock,” he says.

For Loice Kimirri, community member, Mayianat community land, Naibunga conservancy, the electric fence has been a saving grace for the locals especially, women and children in the area.

“Women can now fetch and store their water without fearing that they would be attacked at the water points by elephants or that they will drink the stored water in the middle of the night,” she narrates.

Unlike before when women used to escort their children to school and back, women can now comfortably send their children to school because the fear of them being attacked by elephants on their way to school or home is no longer there, Kimirri adds.

She notes that this was very tiresome and time-consuming considering the fact that women also have other errands to run within the homestead such as fetching water for consumption.

Also, being that climate change has taken a toll on the livestock, the fence has enabled women to keep kitchen gardens, where they grow fruits and vegetables, to provide food security for their families without fear that the elephants will come and destroy the crops.

Kimirri displaying how the fence works
Photo credits: Fredrick Omondi

Despite this, Kimirri notes that the elephants have become clever and few are able to find their way through the electric fence and cross over to the human settlement areas, especially in search of water.

She also notes that maintenance of the fence requires skilled labor and when there is any damage to it, most residents don’t have the technical know-how to fix it hence, they have to wait on KWS or NRT officers.

Additionally, Jim Nyamu, Executive Director, Elephants Neighbor Centre says that though fencing has worked in some places including the Aberdare ranges, the concept can not be replicated everywhere as each area is unique.

“When people are living on one side, it is easy to fence them in unlike when they are living haphazardly with no proper land zonation,” he said.

The fence is being rolled out in three phases across the three units in the conservancy. The 40km fence is covering the Naibunga Central Community Conservancy. With the second and third installments targeting Naibunga Lower and Upper conservancies.