Human-Wildlife Conflict:Why a zoonotic disease outbreak is looming in Kwale County

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Residents of Imenti in Meru county push an elephant that had been trampling on farm crops towards a river .Human wildlife conflict in Kwale has goven rise to an illegal bushmeat market in Kwale county PHOTO COURTESY

As medical researchers worldwide rush to try to find the cure and vaccine to the Coronavirus disease that has claimed more than 652,846 lives globally, Kwale county risks being the next epicenter of a Zoonotic disease outbreak.

According to the Centre for Disease Control, a zoonotic disease is caused by harmful germs transmitted from animals to humans with deadly diseases such as  HIV/ Aids, Ebola, Rift Valley fever, Plague, and Rabies being classified as diseases of zoonotic nature.

The disease which has now become a global pandemic was first detected in a live meat market Wuhan, China.

WHO has classified COVID-19 as having a zoonotic origin as its causative virus, the SARS-CoV-2 is linked to bats though researchers insist that the bats did not transmit the virus directly to human beings.

“The full genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 from the early human cases and the sequences of many other viruses isolated from human cases from China and all over the world since then show that SARS-CoV-2 has an ecological origin in bat populations. All available evidence to date suggests that the virus has a natural animal origin and is not a manipulated or constructed virus. “ The World Health Organization indicates.

READ ALSO: Dik-dik numbers in Taita hills pushed to near extinction

Closer back home, revenge wildlife killings which aid illegal game meat markets in Kwale County place the border county under the risk of becoming the next epicenter of such diseases.

Various residents who spoke to Baraka FM in Lunga Lunga and Kinangosub-counties said that the animals mostly traded and consumed in the illegal markets include Giraffes, Dik-Diks, Buffaloes, and Impalas.

“ Those who trade in bushmeat are well known in the villages all you have to do is to walk to their homesteads and make an order.” Kinango resident 1 who confessed to having eaten Dik Dik and Buffalo meat said.

“ In some cases, consumption is not intentional. You find that the farmers get tired of animals such as dik-diks straying into their farms from the Shimba hills national reserve so they opt to deal with them by ensnaring them and because they know risky being caught by KWS rangers with a snared dik-dik, they end up turning them into a meal”. She added.

In the now thriving markets, residents say a full dik-dik retails at a price of between sh 400 to sh. 800.

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According to section 98 of the Wildlife Management act, anyone found guilty of being in possession of bush meat risks a jail term of three years without the option of a fine while anyone found guilty of purchasing bush-meat risks a jail term of one year or a fine of up to one million shillings.

COMPLICATED COMPENSATION PROCESS

Other residents said that they decided to take the law into their own hands after their crop damage compensation claims went unpaid.

Cases of wildlife straying into private farms are not rare in Kwale county.

Last month,  a herd of jumbos was spotted feasting on cassava farms in Ndavaya village after escaping from the nearby Shimba Hills national reserve with farmers warning that they risked losing their entire crop to the elephants.

READ ALSO Camel owner arrested over poisoning 18 vultures in suspected revenge attack

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, out of the 13,125 compensation claims filed between 2014 and 2017, 5073 of them sought compensation for damaged food crops.

“The cost of input per acre has been fixed at Sh. 15,000. The basis of this estimate is from the average cost of input required to farm an acreage of maize which is the staple food for most communities in Kenya and appeared as the crop damaged most frequently in the incidence data.” The task force of wildlife compensation recommended.

However, the process has often been put on the spot over delays with the victims of wildlife attacks often blaming cartels of hijacking the process.

“ Over the past two years, it has become increasingly difficult to receive compensation for crops destroyed by wildlife from the Marenji forest reserve so residents started trapping the animals and slaughtering them as a way of getting rid of them,” Lunga Lunga resident 1 told Baraka FM.

Last year, tourism and wildlife CS Najib Balala told the Senate Committee on Trade, Tourism, and Industrialization Chaired by Kirinyaga Senator Charles Kibiru that budgetary constraints and lack of a proper channel to verify claims was hampering efforts to pay the claims some dated as back as 2014.

RESIDENTS UNAWARE

Despite the looming risk of a disease outbreak, residents who spoke to Baraka FM stated that they were unaware of the risk of consuming uninspected bush meat.

“ In fact, it’s the first time I have heard someone saying it’s risky to consume such type of meat. We found our grandfathers eating it so we don’t find it risky” Kinango resident 2 told Baraka FM.

According to a report by Wildlife Direct’s ‘Eyes in the courtroom project’, offenders arrested over bushmeat offenses in 2017 were mostly found in possession Giraffe, Dik-Dik, Impala, and Buffalo meat.

“ There is a belief that bushmeat is safer since the animals have been consuming bush plants and they have not interacted with human beings. Most residents view the meat like ordinary beef or mutton since it’s not from poisonous species such as snakes “ Kinango resident three said.

READ ALSO: Man nabbed trying to smuggle python across Likoni ferry

However, officials from the Kenya Wildlife service insist that all types of untreated bushmeats are susceptible to fueling viral disease outbreaks.

“There is often a false belief that bushmeat from species such as giraffes and Dik Diks is safer than meat from domesticated animals. Any type of uninspected bushmeat is dangerous it doesn’t matter if it comes from commonly consumed species such as impalas or less consumed species such as snakes. Should the animal be infected with a virus, then the risk of the consumer contracting a viral disease is very high” John Wambua, the acting head of the Kenya Wildlife Service in the coast region says.

Wambua further insisted that the service has been sensitizing communities living near game parks on the dangers associated with the illegal consumption of uninspected game meat.

“What happens is that when we hold the Baraza’s to sensitize the community on the dangers of consuming game meat, most of the hunters and consumers do not attend over fears of being smoked out and being arrested” Wambua added.

As human-wildlife conflict fuels the consumption of game meat in Kwale county, the service has indicated that bushmeat could be finding its way into the kitchens of unsuspecting Kenyans in large cities like Mombasa and Nairobi.

Last year, more than 800 kilograms of zebra meat was impounded in Nairobi’s Burma meat Market while a 2018 analysis by the Africa Wildlife Foundation found traces of giraffe meat in butcheries in Voi, Emali and Sultan Hamud.

*Reporting for this story was facilitated by the Media Council of Kenya’s grant on reporting on COVID-19. Some sources in the story requested anonymity over fears of being tracked by the authorities*

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