Alarm as villagers erect makeshift electric fences

An elephant grazes along the Lower Imenti Forest at Gankere area in North Imenti
An elephant grazes along the Lower Imenti Forest at Gankere area in North Imenti

Most modern electric fences send 'pulses' of electricity across the wire in one or two second intervals.

This tends shock, and then 'release' wild animals or intruders rather than having them stuck on the wire being fried.

But in Lower Imenti are of Buuri Constituency, residents are making their own makeshift “electric fences”.

Results have been disastrous. Kenya Wildlife Service senior fencing director George Odhiambo says three elephants have been killed by the fences since December last year.

Engineer Odhiambo is pleading with the residents to disconnect the live electrical cables they have connected directly from their homes to their farms to shock jumbos.

“Let’s work together to address this issue. The community is to blame for the jumbo menace especially in Kithoka area where the animals have destroyed crops. Residents at first short circuit the solar fence that was there in the first place, weakening it. Now that the elephants are intruding in their Shambas, they are electrocuting them," he says.

Odhiambo requests the Meru station warden to work closely with the community to ensure the rangers keep the elephants at bay until official fencing is complete.

In January, Kithoka Village residents feasted on an elephant carcass that was electrocuted by farmers.

Meru KWS station warden Zablon Omulako also cautions the community against making their own electric fences.

He says KWS has already received materials for professional fencing.

Professionally made fences usually do not kill. While the voltage sent through the wires is high, the current or amplification (amps) is very low. Amps are what kills. So while electric fence energisers put out high voltage (around 8,000 volts), the amperage or current is low (around 120 milliamps). This is 120 thousands of an Amp (normal mains electricity is 13 Amps). This should not even kill a squirrel.

But in mains electricity, 220 volts at 13 amps can kill both animals and people. The mains have a continuous supply of current, resulting in the grabbing effect that is dangerous and the victim is unable to release from the source of the current.

Electric fences are made safer by the pulsating current which means that when the wires are touched and deliver a shock - whatever touches it has a chance to remove itself.

The animal is able to retreat from the source of energy and will associate this unpleasant feeling with touching the fence and will be discouraged from touching it again in the future.

Florence Kanana, an environmentalist and representative of Naari, Nchoroiboro and Mailikumi villages in Lower Imenti Forest, defends the farmers saying elephants have killed seven people in the last two years.

Rhino Arc, a local non-governmental organisation, asks the community to be patient saying an electric fence is being put up.

Christian Lambrechets, the executive director of Rhino Arc, says construction of 450 kilometre Mt Kenya forest fence is ongoing.

The community, through the county government, had promised to pump in Sh9 million in the project.

“Since it was built in 1997 it has been vandalised, but we have taken up concern to rebuild. The construction will start once the community commits Sh9 million. The fence will cost Sh25 million without tight lock, Sh45 million with it and Sh53 million if re-constructed with the energiser and small gap between poles and wire mesh,” Lambrechets says.

The KWS senior warden in Meru Jimna Patet says the community has a valid reason to complain about continuous destruction of crops and property.

He says KWS rangers are few and cannot effectively man the long stretch of farms around the forest.

The more than 12,0000 residents of Naari, Nchoroiboro and Mailikumi villages say the have never harvested cassava, sugarcane, bananas, pumpkins, butternuts and pawpaws in the last three years.

They also harvest maize prematurely before the elephants come.

“I have already uprooted all the sugarcane, bananas and cassava which were in my farm, because I would rather live without them rather than spend the night out chasing elephants from my farm. If the situation remains the same, I would rather sell my farm and buy another land where I will live in peace without these animals pulling me back,”says Michael Murithi a resident of Maili Kumi.

Some residents claim the only remedy is erecting a stone wall around their farms because any other type of fence is useless.

“I once fenced my shamba with barbed wire and the same night the elephants came into the farm and destroyed the whole of it. I don’t know how I can protect myself. I have been looking forward to do greenhouse farming but I can’t because it will be an effort in futility,”says Kagwiria Kirugi, a resident.

Many say their children fear going to school early in the morning due to fear of wild animals, and this has led to poor performance in school.

Mary Mbugua, a resident of Nkunga village, says their bumper harvest from the Elnino rains is has been destroyed by the elephants.

“During these rains we expected we would get enough crop harvest but none of our miraa, maize potatoes, beans or any other crop is left in the farms. Many of us spend the nights out and we pray that these elephants can be contained in the forest and we find our peace,” she said.

Franklin Muthomi complains that they have never been compensated for the loss.

“For many seasons, our crops have been destroyed and we have never been compensated. The agriculture department registers destructions and the KWS department has never bothered to compensate. We buy all kinds of food from the markets despite having fertile lands and water for irrigation,”he said.