‘Milking the elephant’: A community’s quest in Amboseli to earn income from wildlife

‘Milking the elephant’: A community’s quest in Amboseli to earn income from wildlife

If it weren’t for playing dead after an encounter with an elephant nearly six years ago, Peter Nkoonto Kilukei would not have been there to tell his story of survival and witness the colourful ceremony that marked a new promising beginning for his community’s journey towards reaping benefits from living wildlife.

His encounter with an elephant in 2016 left him with a physical disability but he was luckiest of the four people who were attacked that day.

“I owned a shop and I was going to get stock from a nearby town. While on the way, an elephant ambushed me. It lifted me up with its trunk and threw me against a tree. It was a surprise and strange attack since I love wildlife. I held on to the branches and played dead. It searched but couldn’t find me. I think I lost consciousness at some point and fell off the tree. It was a lone rogue elephant and it killed three people after the attack on me. I was lucky because the route was busy hat day. Good Samaritans on that route came to my aid and rushed me to hospital,” said 33-year-old Kilukei.

Despite the bitter encounter with the elephant, Kilukei still turned up alongside more than 1,000 other members of his community in this wildlife rich area of Amboseli to witness the issuing of the certificate of registration for the Nasaru-Olosho Conservancy by the Environment and Forestry Cabinet Secretary (CS) Keriako Tobiko.

In Nasaru-Olosho Conservancy, Kajiado County, where the Environment CS Tobiko led the World Biodiversity Day celebrations on Saturday, May 22, the risk of coming face to face with a lion or even an elephant on a daily basis is common, but the community members are hopeful that the economic proceeds from wildlife which roam freely on their land will be a reality soon.

Kilukei is among the thousands of residents who have cast aside their suffering and pain to ‘milk the elephant’, meaning that they want to get benefits from living with wildlife by adopting innovative and sustainable nature-based enterprises.

Since the attack that left him with a permanent impairment on his left leg, Kilukei has been following up on compensation but in vain, saying he receives the same response every time he enquires about the payment: “Your compensation is yet to be processed.”

“Mimi bado napenda ndovu. Nataka nikamue hii ndovu nipate mapato ya conservancy (I still love elephants but now I want to ‘milk’ elephants through the conservancy to earn an income,” said the jovial Nasaru Olosho resident who aspires to be a ranger.

Over 60 percent of wildlife live outside protected areas, meaning that they roam freely on individual and community land posing a big risk for the people and livestock. Kilukei’s story, while sad, is not the most-heartbreaking of the tales of the dangerous encounters with wildlife in this expansive conservancy which is a wildlife corridor between Amboseli and Tsavo. Here, lives of many children have been upended after losing a parent or a guardian to wildlife attacks.

“I was a third-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Education (Arts) degree at the University of Nairobi (UoN) when I received the dreaded phone call. My father had been killed by an elephant. His death marked the end of my education,” said 23-year-old Winnie Ketito Sonke.

Her father, a teacher, was heading home from school after a sports day event and he could see his homestead from a distance when an elephant ambushed him from nearby bushes.

“He was so close as he had already entered our farm but he did not see the rogue elephant that was hiding in the bushes. It charged towards him and he managed to run away fast towards our home. Unfortunately, just a few meters from our house he tripped on an exposed tree root and fell down. The elephant caught up with him and trampled him to death,” said Winnie.

With the registration of the conservancy, many of the survivors of human wildlife conflict hope to finally receive their compensation. For Winnie, her life changed when WWF-Kenya offered her an internship and eventually hired her after learning of her plight. In September 2021, she will resume her studies at the UoN to complete her studies as a fourth-year student.

“The most important thing about the conservancy is the compensation people will get if they are injured by wildlife. Attacks on livestock by lions and hyenas are also common in this area,” said Emmanuel Lemunkuya, the Nasaru Olosho Conservancy secretary.

Speaking during the ceremony on Saturday, WWF-Kenya Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Awer said the conservancy’s action plan covers mitigation and following up on compensation for survivors and families killed by wildlife as well as improving livelihoods of the area residents through innovative projects to promote harmony with nature.

“We want justice. We want equity. We want inclusion. We want diversity. Even among the conservancy rangers, we want to see more women. We come as partners. Nasaru Olosho is a creation of the community. We only want to maintain the partnership. We want to be part of the effort, not the controllers of the effort,” said WWF-Kenya CEO Awer.

Environment CS Tobiko underscored the role of the community in conservation, noting that people must be part of the solution to restore nature following decades of degradation.

“If it is human beings who have been degrading the environment, then we must look for solutions to restore nature. The theme of the Biological Diversity Day says that we are part of the solution but something is missing there. We are also part of nature. Biodiversity is about all living things. Human beings cannot pick and choose what animals to ignore and what to treasure,” said the Environment CS.

Among key stakeholders who joined the people of Nasaru Olosho Conservancy to celebrate Biodiversity Day in Kajiado County were National Environment Management Authority Director General Dr Mamo B Mamo, Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association CEO Dickson Kaelo, National Environment Trust Fund (Kenya) CEO Samson Toniok, Kenya Forest Service Commandant Alex Lemakoko, representatives from Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Water Towers, National Environment Tribunal and other stakeholders.

During the event, CS Tobiko inspected the joint WWF-Kenya/Ministry of Environment and Forestry solar-powered boreholes initiative in the Southern Kenya Landscape that is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Through the support from the program, WWF-Kenya installed solar-powered elephant deterrent fences around 7 schools with fully fitted solar lighting systems, constructed 6 concrete water harvesting tanks with a capacity of 50,000 cubic meters each and renovated a 100,000 cubic meters tank in one of the schools, trained community rangers, drilled four solar-powered boreholes (one for each of the four group ranches).

The conservation organization also provided four motorbikes to be used by community scouts, distributed beehives for 14 women groups, and provided 10 predator-proof bomas, camera traps, binoculars, lion lights, and GPS devices. Further, the Environment CS participated in the conservancy’s tree planting drive spearheaded by local schools and community scouts.

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