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Villagers hostage to fear of hippos

Marauding hippos have taken hostage students in several schools and police officers at a post in Nairobi’s Kahawa West.

Ruturo village residents and police officers stationed at the Ruruto post have to plan their lives around the animals schedules in and out of water.

No one will venture out at the times when the beasts, living in nearby dams owned by Tatu Coffee Estate owners, are roaming the village or just basking.

Village elder Henry Muhura said: “We have constantly asked the coffee estate’s owners to fence their farms so that the hippos don’t cross over but they have turned a deaf ear on us. The hippos even attack workers at the plantations.” 

The hippos were moved to the dams by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) 13 years ago and they have so far killed and maimed scores of villagers and caused massive destruction, the residents said.

One, Mr Raphael Muinde said: “We have lived in fear since 2001. The animals have reproduced and are now too many. They cross over to our farms to destroy our crops. This year I don’t think we are going to harvest anything from the farms.” 

In the most recent case, Mr Paul Munene was mauled by some hippos while working on his farm last month.

Expansive farms

Scores of others have lost life and limb to the mammals while reporting to or leaving work on the expansive coffee farms, especially early in the mornings or late evenings.

The villagers said they had been forced to escort their children to school after 9am and ensure they are back home by 3pm for fear of the deadly attacks.

“It has affected learning in this area. Schools are being forced to open late in the morning and close early,” said one villager.

Not even police officers have been spared the fear. On numerous occasions, the officers have been forced to lock themselves inside the station when the animals stray into the station compound.

KWS, however, dismissed reports on the attacks, saying they had only received one complaint from the villagers relating to last month’s killing of Mr Munene.

A field officer who identified himself only as Augustine said their hands were tied as they could not take action before receiving a formal complaint from the local administration.

“We have not received a complaint from the local chief. Our hands are tied. Meanwhile, we are preparing compensation for Mr Munene’s family,” he said.

One policeman who requested anonymity said: “The hippos spare no one. I have taken it upon myself to write to KWS and see if any action will be taken.”