Ever since Kenya was a republic, dominion, colony, or left alone the way its people liked it, wildlife meant wealth. People made great fortunes by shooting and mounting the biggest trophies, poaching for skin, teeth and horn, and latterly by hosting those who wish to photograph live animals. Adventurers, hoteliers, photographers, artists, publishers, safari boot-makers, camera manufacturers, statue carvers and governments all benefited.

Ongoing conversations in Kenya usually dissect the nature of wildlife’s beneficiaries, with conservancies particularly in the spotlight, or the evictions in Loliondo to the south. But the more urgent, sorely neglected conversation concerns the many people who live near game reserves and must navigate horns, hooves, teeth, claws and fangs every day, just to move around, grow crops or go to school like other Kenyans. Do we see these people?

When I came across the headline “Meat inspector attacked by hippos”, my first reaction was to playfully reimagine the headline to “Meat inspector attacked by meat” before confronting the brutal events described there. You see, this incident took place around Manguo Estate in Nyahururu, near a hippo viewing area (“nguũ”, corrupted to “nguo” is the Kikuyu name for hippo). Other hippo attacks in 2023 have been reported here and here. In 2021, National Geographic magazine covered a spate of hippo attacks on Lake Naivasha during the Covid-19 pandemic and estimated the animals had killed 40 people.

If you escape the hippos’ massive canine teeth, an elephant could run you through with a tusk or trample you. In a heart-breaking story which spread around the world, an elephant near Tsavo trampled a man who earlier in his life had survived a hyena attack. Two women in Narok met a similar fate, and this man had the misfortune to bump into not one, but two.

The hooves and horns of a buffalo sent three people to hospital in Laikipia and killed a schoolboy who was herding cattle in Maji Moto, Narok. Near Juja, just off the Thika  highway, a clan of hyenas has been feasting on people with no word from KWS about plans to relocate them, though they produced a guide on how to escape a hyena attack. No word on what to do  if you meet many animals, though.  In fact, animal attacks on Kenyans are one of the most discussed topics in Parliament.

People who suffer attacks from wildlife should be compensated according to the law, but the amounts paid out are dwarfed by the damage from maulings, gorings and destroyed crops. In 2021, the amount paid out in compensation from 2014 to 2021 was KSh 500 million, a sum then Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala described as inadequate. The budgeted amount for the 2020/21 financial year was KSh 604 million.

A 2018 performance audit of security measures put in place to protect wildlife published by the Auditor General found that unpaid compensation from 2014 to 2016, which included 274 deaths and 2,029 injuries, amounted to KSh 2.2 billion.

A sector report compiled by the National Treasury noted that at the end of 2016, total wildlife compensation was KSh 15 billion and was projected to be KSh 5 billion every year, more than is allocated, and much more than what actually gets paid. The report recommended an insurance scheme prescribed in the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 be created and the Permanent Secretary  in the State Department for Wildlife recently alluded to such a scheme.

Usually, insurance refers to payment of premiums in order to claim benefits after a future foreseen event.  What is not clear is whether the government will simply disburse the KSh 1.1 billion to approved beneficiaries as compensation, or use it as seed money and compensate beneficiaries from the proceeds.

Adding to the uncertainty is the fate of the Senate’s amendment Bill that was meant to improve the 2013 Wildlife Conservation and Management Act. Among other things, it recommended a change in species with respect to which compensation could be paid to include “poisonous snakes, dangerous snakes, shark, stonefish whale, sting ray and wild pig”. However, according to the National Assembly, the list in the 2013 Act also left out the hippo, which kills up to 500 people a year in Africa, according to some reports. Listing more species likely means a rise in the number of eligible incidents, and therefore the compensation payable.

After passing the Senate, the bill promptly drowned in the National Assembly’s Environment and Natural Resource Committee on the grounds that it was a money Bill, which only the National Assembly can introduce. The Bill’s sponsor, Senator Jones Mwaruma, who was re-elected in 2022, says he is looking for a colleague in the National Assembly to sponsor the bill.

So, until a new law comes into force, many Kenyans will continue to suffer attacks by wild animals without recompense. It should disturb Kenyans that two faces of wildlife exist in the same country: one Instagram-friendly shot in 4K, the other a world of suffering, invasion, injury, painful death and the indignity of having to beg government for money.

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