Four Kenyans were killed on Thursday after police opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Kajiado County, the eastern part of the country.
Mashuru police commander Charles Chepkong’a said seven others were injured and admitted to a local hospital following the fracas in the Masimba area.
According to the police commander three were killed at the scene while the fourth died in hospital.
Chepkong’a said the group was protesting against the persistent invasion by wildlife animals in the area.
He explained that an elephant had apparently killed a teacher in the area and locals were angered by a lack of action from authorities. The locals also said the perennial wildlife invasion had caused the destruction of property in the area.
A Kajiado resident said “Elephants are causing destruction every day, and our children are not going to school as they are killed by elephants all the time and all the schools are closed due to the elephant invasion.”
The issue escalated with residents burning tires and barricading the busy Nairobi-Mombasa highway for hours, leading to major traffic that stretched for more than five kilometres and paralyzed operations.
The incident forced police to intervene using force after the group used stones to block the road as others sat there stalling operations along the busy highway.
Several women from the pastoral Maasai community flanked by other villagers carried banners and chanted slogans saying “we don’t want elephants” as they barricaded the road with stones and trees.
Motorists were forced to scamper for safety after the demonstrators turned chaotic.
“The police have killed us and we have suffered. Some women were pregnant, and are suffering from the tear gas used by the police. People are being killed.” one of the protesters lamented.
Kenyans vs wildlife
Residents have repeatedly called on the Kenya Wildlife Service to find a solution to the conflicts between people and animals.
Farmers lament that the animals, mostly elephants, invade their farms, destroy crops and at times kill people.
Reports of wildlife straying into human habitats in the country have increased in recent years as the animals come under growing pressure from cities expanding into ancient migration and hunting grounds.
In December last year, a pack of hyenas killed two people over a span of 24 hours in a village just 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
In the same month, a leopard wandered into a house in southeastern Kenya after straying from its home in Tsavo National Park before rangers rescued it.
In another incident last year, a lion caused panic in July after straying from its habitat in Nairobi National Park into a crowded neighbourhood south of the city.