Unrest in northern Kenya has spread to cattle ranches that support sustainable wildlife tourist camps.
Armed herdsmen have been marauding through this region in their 1,000s, burning property, shooting at farmers and tourists, raiding cattle and slaughtering elephant and zebra.
The government appears unable to contain the unrest. Over the last year hundreds of small holders have abandoned their land. Among them George Mwai, who is confined to a wheel chair since being shot trying to defend his medium sized cattle ranch and wildlife farm.
Now the land grabs have spread to long established wildlife ‘conservancies’, where ranchers combine raising cattle with tourism and wildlife conservation.
On Sunday night a tourist camp run by a respected botanist, Anne Powys, was razed to the ground. It has been reported some 10,000 tribal herdsmen descended on the exclusive bush camp known as Suyian Soul.
Guests staying at the thatched camp report seeing the armed men attack an elephant herd as they descended. Anne, who fled with one guest to her father’s house on the 40,000 acre family ranch, texted her sister shortly afterwards;
‘We are safe. [tribesmen] have lit three places at front of lodge… Sadly may lose my camp’
Anne’s staff remained hidden behind rocks overlooking the camp. They kept in radio contact with her, whispering reports of how the mob swarmed through the eco-camp, looting as they went.
Suyian, which means wild dog in Maa, is named after a wild pack of dogs living in a rocky outcrop above the lodge. It is based on a ranch in the Laikipia region of northern Kenya. The Powys family have farmed the ranch for more than 100 years.
In recent years Anne, whose books on African flora and the medicinal properties of Kenyan plants have attracted interest worldwide, has promoted the camp as a spiritual haven, offering yoga and holistic healing to those wanting to reconnect with nature.
Yesterday Anne’s family returned to the partly-burned-out camp where the fires still smouldered. They turned back after spotting the armed raiders looting the site. Anne’s father Gilfred had managed to salvage a few clothes and Anne’s precious books before they returned. Suyian overlooks a salt lick and boasts one of the largest elephant populations outside Kenya’s official national parks. It is one of many tourist camps based on ‘conservancies’ that have been attacked this month or are at risk of attack. Ranchers report being shot at repeatedly and of their buildings being ransacked and burned.
“We don’t know where they will attack next but we’ve been packing an emergency bag in case we have to leave,” said one farmer. Those in the path of the armed gang include a nearby rhino sanctuary.
Despite a public plea by Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta for the raids to stop, little has happened. Known as ‘land grabs’, these attacks have mainly been carried out by Samburu and Potok tribesmen from the far north of Kenya where a drought has led to a severe lack of grazing.
Reports in the Kenyan newspaper The Star suggest the attacks are being encouraged by local politicians hoping to boost their vote in Kenya’s elections later this year. They point to the way the raids appear to be organised and claim that the tribesmen are armed with military issue guns.
The land owners have appealed to the tribal elders to offer them free grazing until the drought subsides in return for an end to the killing. One concerned land owner said she was afraid the herdsmen ‘no longer listened to the elders”.