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How to stop a herd of buffalo


Update on WWF’s work supported by Size of Wales, by John Bett in Boni-Dodori, Kenya

Imagine this: you wake one morning to find a herd of buffaloes or elephants grazing in your farm. Nearly all your crops are destroyed and the little remaining will not sustain your family until the next planting season.

This is an example of ‘human wildlife conflict’ or HWC – one of the key issues we’re working with the local community to address here in the Boni-Dodori forest in Lamu, Kenya.

HWC is where humans come into conflict with wild animals and includes the destruction of property and crops as well as injury or even death to humans from animal attacks. It also includes the killing and injury of wild animals to drive them away from farms and homes.

Digging a game moatDigging a game moat – the moats can stop wild animals damaging property and crops. (Photo: John Bett / WWF)

We are now testing a simple and affordable method to prevent wild animals destroying crops: game moats.  By digging these ditches, we hope to prevent buffaloes and elephants from crossing into fields and raiding crops.

My team are working closely with the Aweer community – indigenous people who were previously hunter-gatherers living in the local forests. They have now adopted farming as their main livelihood, albeit mainly for subsistence, after they were forcibly removed from the forests to create two National Reserves and following a government ban on hunting in the 1970’s.

Living next to the forests, where wildlife roams freely, brings particular challenges to farming. Men and young people keep vigil during the night whilst women guard the crops during the day.  Those guarding crops during the night light fires and make noise such as drumming to scare animals away. It is a tough job.

Following consultation with local people, we arranged a visit to other communities with similar challenges down on the south coast of Kenya, to learn about how they deal with human-wildlife conflict. We saw that among the strategies employed, digging game moats was effective and people wanted to try the technique on their own farms back here in Lamu.

Work has just begun. Three groups in two villages in the forest corridor between the two National Reserves have dug game moats. Everyone wants to take part in the pilot programme, but we are urging those not yet involved to wait and see how effective the game moats are.

Somali herders have moved their cattle through the Boni-Dodori forests for centuries looking for pasture and water (Photo: David Tanner / WWF)

Keeping at bay buffaloes and elephants will safeguard crops. This is hugely important to the community as an increased harvest means more food to last families until the next planting season. As well as the exchange visits, we have provided implements for digging the game moats as well as food and drink for the workers. We also brought in a government officer to train community members on modern farming methods, including how best to space crops and the use of certified seeds.

It is now planting season and people are continuing to dig the game moats. Let’s hope the moats help tackle human-wildlife conflict, reducing crop raids and helping people and wildlife live together in harmony.

I’ll report back in my next blog post, so watch this space! And please let us know what you think of this project in the comments below.

If you would like to support WWF’s work to protect these precious forests then our partner Size of Wales will match your donation, doubling the amount we receive!

We’re grateful to Size of Wales , the UK Department for International Development and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – through the Darwin Initiative – for their support of the WWF Kenya Boni-Dodori Sustainable Forests project.  

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