Solving Human Elephant Conflict

Solving Human Elephant Conflict

By: Paula Kahumbu

Nairobi-March 8, 2018: 

Today is International Women’s Day. We can’t keep complaining about how men treat us when we don’t treat each other fairly, with compassion and empathy. Let’s do something to make it mean something.

I’ve been working on Human Elephant Conflict for several years now. in my research I have spoken to irate farmers, and I understand a lot about what they are experiencing. But one of my FB friends, John Ole Keshine has consistently. challenged me to talk to victims of personal attacks. I won’t lie, I was pissed off at him for saying I hadn’t done my homework and I even considered unfriending him. That made me question my fears. We spoke on phone and he is right.

So yesterday I asked Soila to take me to the Loitokitok Hospital to meet Nkini Ene Sipitek, a mother of 8 and widow who was attacked and badly injured two weeks ago at Kuku ranch. Nkini thinks she is 55 but her doctor puts her age at 69. She can’t read nor write and doesn’t own a telephone. She doesn’t know her birthdate but her second born son is apparently over50.

I went to the hospital in the late morning. The entrance was busy, the halls filled with expectant mothers, visitors and other patients. It was surprisingly clean and walking to the wards I could see through large windows onto some of the wards and couldn’t help noticing that some beds had more than one patient. The walls and floors of the hospital were surprisingly clean and we met cheerful hospital staff mopping and cleaning. The matron and doctor were patient and considerate though clearly overworked.

We found Nkini on her small bed in the women’s ward. The ward smelled of antiseptic. It was quiet, other patients were sleeping or had visitors and they spoke in hushed tones. She was lucky to have her own bed, though she had no bedsheets, only wraps from home. Her bed was touching the bed next to hers – the doctor told me that they had added it into the already full ward. It was a very old but quite functional metal bed with springs. Her mattress though was very thin. For a pillow she had two blocks of bright yellow rubber lined foam blocks. They were wedged under her mattress. The whole bed groaned and creaked as metal springs rubbed against each other every time she moved. It sagged deeply in the middle.

I was taken by how tiny Nkini was. She was hunched over – she couldn’t have been more than 40kg. She had a wide eyed expression and spoke few words very softly. She complained of pain in her chest and her doctor said X-rays had shown no broken bones. But she has massive soft tissue damage.

She was wearing a knitted blue beanie and stared off into the distance. Her injuries to her face have nearly completely healed but the tusks ripped through her legs and buttocks, leaving gaping wounds that two weeks later, will not close. .She didn’t smile once. I could tell that she was in pain but she didn’t cry out even as they asked her to stand and walk to get her dressings changed. She did walk slowly and with the help of two nurses.

She told me how it happened. She said she was grazing her goats and collecting firewood out in the bush as she did every day. She was leaning over to pick sticks when out of the blue. an elephant charged. She hadn’t seen it and didn’t have any time to run. Tusk’s ripped trough her from behind. She may have been tossed. The elephant got her at last twice before leaving her. Though this happened close to home, nobody saw, she was alone.

Somehow she crawled to her hut and told one of the small children to call one of the elders and she was rushed to hospital.

I visited several Masai homes in the last ten days and it’s not hard to imagine how this could happen. There’s nothing separating the homes from the bush but a thin line of acacia thorns. At the Elerai village an elephant pulled down a tree right in front of a house one Sunday. The drought no doubt put more people at risked elephants searched closer to villages for water and food.

I gave Nkini a small cash contribution and discussed her bill with her doctor. She will need an operation this week to close the wounds. The hospital bill might rise to several hundred dollars – not much for people earning a good living, but a devastating blow to her, a widow and mother of 8.

I recorded a live video from the hospital just after I had met her. My whole chest felt constrained, I felt quite traumatized and helpless. That is why I am sending out an appeal to anyone willing to support Nkini. Please share this with all your networks.

To help, Soila will visit her daily and bring her food and drinks and update me on her progress. The funds I’m looking to raise are for her bills and recovery, and to support her family until she i s better. We will buy a new mattress, bed sheets and a pillow.

It’s not a lot and just two or three donations will cover this. I know that Nkini can apply for state compensation – but it’s unlikely to come through for years. She needs support now. If you would like to help please contact me – you can donate via mpesa or to

  • M-PESA PayBill No. 917856 – Account No. Nkini
  • Online:
  • By Check: To make a gift by check, please make your check payable to WildlifeDirect, Inc. and mail to: WildlifeDirect, 921 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE., Suite 304, Washington, DC 20003
  • Kenya:To make a gift by check, please make your check payable to WildlifeDirect Kenya and mail to: WildlifeDirect, P.O. Box 24467-00502, Nairobi, Kenya.

I’m hoping we will raise excess to allow us to support other victims as needed. About 100 people are injured by elephants and other animals every year.

Let me know your thoughts and do share this if you have friends and networks that may wish to help.

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