How 400km solar-powered fence reduces human-wildlife conflict
Joseph Kipsang, The Standard
October 30, 2023
In the picturesque village of Riru, nestled in the Kieni West region, the
sun reaches its zenith as 58-year-old farmer Chrispus Karue continues his
daily toil in the lush maize fields.
The embrace of the formidable Aberdare Forest Mountains, their cold breath
touching the landscape, serves as a constant reminder of nature's profound
Amidst the harmonious symphony of thriving crops and domesticated animals
on his farm, a remarkable coexistence prevails.
Yet, what truly distinguishes this rural tableau unfolds just beyond
Karue's doorstep: majestic elephants, formidable buffalos, elegant zebras,
and graceful waterbucks move freely, sharing silent kinship with the local
“We coexist with them harmoniously, I consider myself fortunate to witness
these wild creatures from my farm, whereas for others, glimpsing an
elephant in a game park comes at a cost”, Karue says.
This harmonious coexistence, a testament to human ingenuity and nature's
resilience, is made possible by an electric, solar-powered fence erected in
1989 by the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, a non-governmental organisation
partnering with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Stretching across Aberdare Forest and the community, this fence has
transformed the lives of Riru's residents and nearby villages.
Initially, the organisations intended to erect a 38km electric fence around
the Park Salient, extending into Mweiga farms with the mission to conserve
Aberdare's wildlife and address human-wildlife conflicts.
However, over two decades, this humble fence evolved into the longest
conservation barrier, spanning nearly 400km. Its guardian status extended
to safeguard over 2,000 sq. km of vital forests in the Aberdare
The seven-foot-tall electrified fence, completed in 2009 at a cost of Sh800
million, effectively deterred wildlife intrusions, fostering peaceful
"Wild animals were frequent visitors to our villages. I remember a day when
leopards strayed from the forest and killed over 25 sheep belonging to our
neighbour," says Karue.
"They posed grave threats to our lives and livelihoods. Going to school was
perilous, requiring us to wait until 10 m, accompanied by our parents for
our children's safety.”
“Since the electric fence's inception, life has dramatically improved.
Pupils now travel to school as early as 5am, and the once-dreaded
encounters with wild animals are distant memories," says Karue.
However, life in Mastoo village of Kieni East, nestled at the border of
Thego, part of Mt. Kenya forest unfolds a different narrative.
Helena Wambui and her husband, James Kimani, recount a nightmarish ordeal
of elephant terror.
In the dead of night, the colossal creature invaded their home, mercilessly
tearing it asunder – the iron sheet and wooden house, devouring the
hard-earned farm produce they had harvested.
Fortunately, the couple was away when the catastrophe unfolded, and their
caretaker narrowly escaped the impending disaster.
"The elephants have been frequently invading our farm, and to prevent
further destruction, we decided to harvest and store our maize, beans, and
potatoes inside the house.
But tragically, the elephants followed, causing even more devastation. I
had potatoes, maize, and beans, but all has been eaten by elephants.
Presently, I have no roof over my head, no food on my plate, and I rely on
the kindness of neighbours," Wambui says.
James Wanjohi, Wambui's husband, implores the Kenya Wildlife Service to
expedite the assessment process and provide compensation for their losses.
"I cannot endure this dilapidated existence any longer. While elephants
have previously ventured into our farms, this is the first time they have
destroyed our homes. I kindly beseech KWS to assist me in rebuilding my
house," he says.
Their property rests roughly a kilometre from the forest, sharing a common
border. Unfortunately, elephants often breach the fence.
Wanjohi, a resident since 1972, has witnessed the ebb and flow of elephants
from the forest, posing a grave threat during harvest season.
Wanjohi shares his optimism, saying, "We are looking forward to the day
when an electric fence will be constructed here so that we can coexist with
this wildlife like people in Aberdare."
The Mt. Kenya Forest fencing project is an ongoing endeavour and has yet to
reach Thego Forest.
According to Adams Mwangi, Rhino Ark Fence and Community Manager, the
current construction phase has successfully covered 290 out of the total
450 kilometres required to encircle the entire forest area, encompassing
Kirinyaga, Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Meru, and Nyeri.
Mwangi explains the significant expenses associated with this project,
where each kilometre of the comprehensive fence comes at a cost of Sh3
To fund this project, they heavily rely on donors, with a substantial
contribution coming from their annual event, the Rhino Charge.
"In the ongoing Mt. Kenya project, some sections have been successfully
completed, while others are still a work in progress. Areas like the
Laikipia plateau and conservancies, including Sangare, pose unique
challenges due to inadequate fencing, sometimes leading to conflicts with
the local community.”
“After this phase, our goal is to reconnect Aberdare and Mt. Kenya,
facilitating wildlife movement between the regions and potentially
integrating conservancies like Sangare into the wildlife corridor," he adds.
The fencing project began in Kirinyaga County, then to Embu County,
followed by Tharaka Nithi, and concluded in Meru.
"Before Rhino Ark's involvement, there was serious conflict between the
community and elephants, leading to casualties on both sides,” Mwangi says.
Paul Omondi, Deputy Park Warden for Mt. Kenya National Park, says fencing
measures help safeguard human lives, conserve wildlife, and enhance
"During our patrols, we identify hotspots and expedite issue resolution.
Moreover, our community education initiatives focus on educating
communities about responding to wild animal intrusions, preventing
injuries, and ensuring swift actions."