The growth of human populations in the Laikipia ecosystem over the last few decades has caused a significant reduction of wildlife habitat. Increasing amounts of land is continuously being sought for crop farming as well as to make room for human settlements and their respective infrastructures in the wildlife dispersal areas. Unfortunately, these developments have resulted in human wildlife conflicts as the later often raid crops in the farmlands. It is for this reason that electric fences were introduced as a mitigation measure as well as a management tool.
The West Laikipia Fence project, initiated by LWF in 2007 with the support from IFAW, KWS, and Constituency Development Funds, strives to prevent elephants from leaving large-scale ranches and moving onto smallholder farms in western Laikipia. Between 2008 and 2012, 133km of the fence was constructed along the boundaries of six large-scale ranches, as well as two ring fences built around smallholder-cultivated areas. Pastoralists and many smallholder farms have begun to benefit from the barriers which have directly resulted in higher crop yields.
But addressing Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) is complex and even though fences provide a sustainable solution implementation of HECs have faced their fair share of challenges. The destruction of the fence by vandals as they break into private owned ranches to graze their cattle has increasingly been recorded in Laikipia. Insignificant fines for those that destroy the fence means that there is repeated vandalism. In addition, authorities lack the capacity to make arrests and to ensure that the appropriate fines are enforced. This coupled with the limited understanding by magistrates about the value of wildlife and the role fences play within the landscape adds to the challenges that need to be addressed. However not all challenges are caused by humans. There are also certain “soft spots” where problematic elephants repeatedly break the fence in search of food from farms or just to cross the landscape.
The Laikipia County Governor formed a taskforce comprised of government agencies, NGOs, private conservancies and other stakeholders to look into lasting solutions to the Human Elephant Conflicts. The Laikipia HEC Task Force first convened in May 07, 2014 with the mandate to manage the construction and maintenance of the West Laikipia Fence and implement structures that would support its sustainability. After a short lull in activity as a result of various factors, the HEC task force reconvened in January 2015 in order to get back on track with its mandate. During this meeting it was decided that:
- The Laikipia County Government will procure all materials required for the upgrade and maintenance of the of the West Laikipia Fence;
- That Ol Pejeta Conservancy (OPC) will manage the upgrade of the West Laikipia Fence and provide oversight for its maintenance on ADC Mutara;
- LWF will manage communications among the stakeholders for the project at the national, local and specific constituency levels within the neighbouring smallholders and pastoralists served by the fence;
- ADC Mutara, Ngorare Ranch and Laikipia Nature Conservancy will provide the necessary access and support to OPC to enable the Conservancy to carry out the fence upgrade work; recruit and employ staff to upgrade and maintain the fence; provide security; and to manage community relations that will allow them to access grazing areas and other resources in accordance with the Laikipia Grazing Task Force (LGTF) and in accordance with the existing policies developed by the LGTF. OPC will also look after all capital assets provided under this project;
- Space For Giants (SFG) will provide management oversight for the project and be responsible for all necessary monitoring and evaluation works to facilitate effective and timely management decisions that are made in regards to the upgrade of the fence, maintenance and management of associated threats from people and wildlife;
- KWS will oversee the project from a government stand point and ensure effective technical support is provided for the removal of problematic elephants;
- The Laikipia County Security Committee will ensure that the necessary security protocols are in place to deal with those that vandalise the fence
In the not so distant future, the public, both local and international, will be invited to participate in the development of fences within Laikipia through various initiatives. The Laikpia HEC task Force will be publishing regular updates in the Forum Focus for public awareness.