Ministry of Tourism Licence No. MTL/3/1634


Ecotourism Kenya

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Herding Elephants

Herding Elephants.

This Man Herds Elephants!

From the safety of his house, Philip Ndivo sees a herd of elephants moving down a hill in Shimba Hills National Park. He pulls down a big electric switch mounted on a wooden deck in his house. He moves out of his house in Lukore village, Kwale District, holding an instrument that tests electric current, which he clips to an electric fence passing near his compound. The gadget confirms the voltage is high enough to keep off any elephant that might try to cross the fence into farms.

Contained inside

Ndivo relaxes in his house, confident that the herd he had seen strolling towards the fence will be contained inside the park. His job is to control the movement of elephants at Shimba Hills National Park, ensuring they do not stray into farms to destroy crops.  Ndivo and fellow villagers use a voltmetre to confirm voltage on an electric fence at Shimba Hills National Park.

With his wife, Anna, and their seven children, Ndivo has made an impact in a region where Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers had always come under fire from farmers whose crops were destroyed every season.

The solar electric fence, erected by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and maintained by Arid lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP), needs manual regulation to ensure power is only used when needed. If it is left on all day, the voltage will be too low at night to prevent elephants from crossing.

Ndivo only switches it on if herds are sighted near the edge and at night when they nearly always try to cross.

Bountiful harvests in the Shimba rain forest area have become a reality for thousands of farmers who previously watched helplessly as their crops were decimated by elephants. Returns have been witnesses in the past one-year since the ALRMP, a World Bank-funded community based drought management project, secured a 100 megawatt solar panel to power the electric fence separating the wildlife park from farm lands.

Regulate fence

Local farmer Ndivo, was picked to take care of the project and regulate the fence's operation because of his passion to see agriculture flourish in the area. "I was the chairman of Shimba Hills Small Scale Farmers Association long before the fence project idea was hatched, first by KWS. I campaigned for farmers to be compensated for their losses whenever elephants crossed a moat dug around the park into farms," says Ndivo.

There was widespread relief when KWS heard the people's cry and installed a 50-megawatt solar powered fence, but it was only a matter of time before the elephants, said by wildlife researchers to be highly intelligent animals, ‘discovered' the weak electric jolts the fence emitted were harmless to them. Ndivo says the KWS solar powered fence was better than the moat while it lasted. Elephants initially kept their distance from it before they learnt to tear down the wires, giving the farmers nightmares.

Then the unexpected happened. The KWS solar panel was stolen, plunging the farmers back to their old problems with the beasts. Famine and poverty hung ominously over a population living in an agriculturally rich belt of the Coast Province. Ndivo and his committee set out to seek assistance from donors after KWS took too long to respond. When help finally came from ALRMP, Ndivo volunteered to put his family at the service of the community. "I agreed that the panel be installed at my house where it would be under 24 hour surveillance by me and my family members. We take turns to look after the equipment," says Ndivo.

He and other farmers in Lukore location, Kwale District, grow a wide variety of crops from maize, millet, cow peas, oranges, tangerines, mangos and other newly introduced exotic horticultural crops.

Mzee Justus Mulinge who migrated from Mwala in Ukambani in the early 1960s, says while the fence has been a shot in the arm for agriculture in the area, there is need to find ways to keep off smaller animals such as wild pigs that burrow below it.

Shield farmers

He calls for the extension of the fence by five more kilometres to completely shield the farmers from the elephant menace.  The Kwale District Drought Management Officer (DMO) Dr Mohamed Keynan says extension was planned in the next phase of the ALRMP project.

Taveta where elephants from Tsavo National Park had for years made agriculture impossible, a similar project has seen farmers smiling their way to the granaries with crops such maize, potatoes, tomatoes and onions thriving,

Unlike the case in Kwale, farmers in at Njukini irrigation scheme in Taveta built a house for the solar panel and employed a watchman to guard it.

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