Nairobi, Kenya — You are a farmer or a rancher and you see a herd of 300 elephants of all sizes and both sexes breaking through your fences. What do you do? Phone the police? Phone wild life conservation? Phone the game department?
It's happening all the time in Kenya. Up in the Laikipia area, near Mt. Kenya, where ranches are measured in hundreds of thousands of acres, elephants and water buffaloes are a growing menace to farmers.
Calling in the government services, moreover, may not provide much help.
Herds of elephants in the area can number up to 600 or more. And they are leading charmed lives because Kenya's conservation laws ban hunting or shooting game.
So farmers and ranchers are waging a continual battle on their own against these huge beasts to protect their livelihood. Still, fences are broken down, irrigation schemes are disrupted, fields where fruit and tropical vegetables are grown for export are smashed and trampled.
These are instances of the dark reverse side of conservation. While tens of thousands of dollars are spent on the worldwide appeal to preserve the endangered African elephant herds, the men on the land instead have good reason to hoep for their extinction.
It is not only the rancher who is involved. The small plotholder, the man with a few acres, the African whose land is his livelihood, suffers seriously from the depredations of elephant and buffalo.
Protests and deputations to the Kenya game department are recevived frequently from farmers, calling for intensified measures to protect their farms.
The game department has tried herding the animals off into the forest but they only come back. Elephants and buffaloes know when they are on to a good thing, pletiful water in times of drought, and delicious fields of maize.
A $6 million study project by a consultanting firm, financed by the World Bank, is soon to be released. It may have the answer.
Farmers have suggested shooting two or three of biggest bulls in the herd, which might drive the other jumbos away. Now the game department is considering a cropping or culling exercise (during which selected animals are efficiently killed by experts to reduce the numbers and ensure sufficient food for the remainder) in places where there is an identifiable elephant overpopulation.
But one farmer said: "They don't seem to have very good shots in the game department."
Another kind of animal menace is emerging. When buffaloes break down farm fences, they let in undipped cattle bearing ticks, which mingle with cattle that have been properly dipped, thereby spreading disease.
Driving elephants and buffaloes into the great game parks, which has been suggested, is not always very practicable. Game parks are often many miles away from the farming areas, and the idea of herding hundreds of elephants across country, through farmlands, and across roads is obviously not a viable solution.
Some solutions involve bringing back legal hunting. One of these is to re-establish hunting blocks in areas where there is what is called "a harvestable surplus of wild animals."
Game-shooting licenses would be issued to hunters who want to indulge in the sport. But this is bound to result in cries of dismay from the animal conservationistS.
In Kenya, there is a direct clash between conservationists and farmers. Prominent Kenya director of the Kenya branch of the World Wildlife Fund, said:
"Our point of view is that Kenya is an agricultural country with an expanding human population, and that the rights of farmers have got to be conserved. But wildlife has also got to be made secure and, where possible, the animals involved should be rounded up and transferred from areas where they are threatening ranchers to restock game parks.
"You can't do this with buffaloes and elephants, so we have got to accept a minimum culling program."