HUMAN-WILDLIFE CONFLICT IN MAHIGA ‘B’
VILLAGE OF NYERI DISTRICT, KENYA
Key words: Conservation, Livelihoods, Crop damage, Coping strategies,
The nature of the
conflict between people and wildlife at local levels is not fully understood.
Decision-making regarding resolution of human wildlife conflict is constrained
by limited knowledge about the circumstances within which these conflicts
occur. Detailed local level descriptions of the nature of the conflict,
people’s coping strategies, people’s livelihoods, nature of loses and the
diverse factors that drive the conflict are rare. Thus conflict mitigation is
constrained by inadequate understanding of the realities that surround
particular areas that are prone to human-wildlife conflict. This study focuses
on wildlife conservation in Kenya and its impact on the livelihoods of
residents of Mahiga ‘B’ village in the south-western reaches of Mount Kenya.
with special reference to elephant migration.
1. An outline
of the villagers’ livelihood
People began settling in Mahiga ‘B’
village in 1980. The land occupied by the village was formerly a
livestock-rearing ranch owned by a white settler. Each resident was allocated
land measuring 4.6 acres. The settlement process has been slow with much of the
land in the village being unoccupied. The residents are basically farmers who
cultivate maize, kidney beans, Irish potatoes and wheat as their main crops.
Being a semi-arid area that receives just over 500 mm of rain per year, the
success of a cropping season depends on the amount of rain that falls. Crop
failure rates are high. Villagers also keep livestock such as cattle and sheep
but also goats although at a smaller scale. Income from the sale of milk
constitutes an important source of income for the villagers although this is
also highly dependent of rainfall. Additional income is obtained by sale of
sheep or goats. A negligible number of the villagers have permanent employment
with a majority of the men engaging in freelance low paying jobs. Other men
engage in casual labor within the village, which includes digging, weeding,
fence repairs, etc. The women are predominantly farmers with a few engaging in
other economic activities such as teaching and casual labor in the village.
Background of human-wildlife conflict
village is bordered to the north by Solio ranch. Solio is a livestock-rearing
ranch. The ranch provides appropriate habitat to a diverse range of wildlife
that include elephants, buffalo, rhino, eland, giraffe, bush pig, cheetah,
hyena, etc. To its east the village is bordered by Sangare village, which in
turn borders, Sangare ranch. Sangare is a livestock rearing whose natural
vegetation also provides appropriate habitat to elephants, bush pig, buffalo,
etc. Wildlife resident or transient in the livestock ranches invades village
farms, attack cultivated crops and damage infrastructure leading to social and
economic loses on the part of the farmers.
A serious conflict of interest exists
between the farmers, the ranch owners and the Government over this situation.
The ranches derive economic benefits from the presence of wildlife while the
farmers incur social and economic loses. The Government is committed to
wildlife conservation because of the immense contribution it makes to the
country’s GDP through tourism.
Crop damage and coping strategies
fieldwork conducted from October 2004 to January 2005, revealed that the
conflict situation in the study area is more complicated and urgent than
previously perceived. Thirteen bird species and twelve species of mammals
attack cultivated crops at different stages of growth: sowed seeds, emerging
cotyledons, first leaves, flowering parts, vines, immature pods of kidney
beans, young tubers and mature crops. Attacks on crops by wildlife occur both
during the day and at night. To successfully cultivate crops the villagers have
to be vigilante day and night from the day of sowing to the day of harvesting
which could take as long as 6 months in the case of maize, 4 months for Irish
potatoes, 4 months for wheat and 3 months for kidney beans. This is practically
not possible for their livelihood demands that they engage in other activities
such as grazing, firewood collection and drawing water that limit the time
available to guard against wildlife during the day. Night time is normally for
resting but mature maize; Irish potatoes and wheat are attacked at night by
bush pig, eland and elephant giving villagers sleepless nights. Adequate
rainfall gives hope of a bumper harvest to the villagers but wildlife becomes a
limiting factor. Infrastructure such as fences is also damaged.
villagers coping strategies include applying the black carbon residue from dry
cells to maize seeds to deter attacks by birds, erecting scarecrows to deter
antelopes, tying animal parts on trees to deter elephants erecting plastic
papers to deter birds and antelopes, chaining dogs in the farm to deter birds
and antelopes, guarding, beating metallic objects at night, lighting fires in
the farm at night, trapping, replanting maize seeds several times in a season
to out compete birds, sowing maize seeds in a nursery then transplanting to the
farm to avoid attacks by birds, etc. Though the success of these methods is
limited, the fact that the farmers apply them indicates that they perceive some
reprieve from their use.
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