A sharp scream sent shivers down the spines of those around the lake as birds on nearby trees flurried off, followed by a deafening silence.
Before anyone could react, another harrowing and chilling scream rent the air, this time forcing a group of zebras and giraffes grazing on the shores of Lake Naivasha to scamper for safety.
Another fisherman was being attacked by a lone hippo.
For what seemed an eternity, Mathew Wanjiuku, 30, was fighting for his life after a hippo held him captive for 10 minutes!
Mathayo, as he is popularly known among his friends, managed to escape after terrified onlookers banged on metal sheets to scare the hippo away.
He was lucky.
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The former coxswain, who is still undergoing treatment at Naivasha sub-county hospital,says that on the fateful day on December 26, he had jumped into Lake Naivasha to fish, but was caught off guard by the charging animal.
“We know of people who in the past have been killed by hippos, but we still venture into the lake as this is the only way we can survive,” he says, adding that, “Poverty and lack of employment has pushed many youth into the lake to seek a meal for their families despite the risk.”
He is not alone.
Enoch Romano, 26, lost both legs after he was attacked in the Kasarani area of Naivasha early last year while fishing.
The father of two met a lone hippo on his way out of the lake and it crushed both his feet.
“I was rushed to hospital and doctors were forced to amputate both my legs since I was in bad shape. I now have to rely on well-wishers because my wife abandoned me after the attack,” he says.
Mid last year, a Taiwanese tourist was not lucky after a hippo attacked and killed him.
His colleague escaped with minor injuries.
KWS officers shot dead the ‘alleged-killer-hippo’, sparking protests from activists who wondered how the animal was identified as the ‘culprit.’
According to a seasoned fisherman, David Kilo, the number of hippo attacks around the lake is on the rise.
He however blames the upsurge in attacks to encroachment on riparian land by private investors who have blocked nearly all wildlife corridors.
“The animals cannot roam freely as they used to in the past in search of pasture, further worsening animal-human conflict,” explains Kilo.
He explains that hippos are a major attraction to local and foreign tourists, adding that without them, tourism in Naivasha will be “virtually dead.”
Kilo, who doubles up as the chairman of Lake Naivasha Boat Owners Association, notes that the upsurge in illegal fishermen has also contributed to the attacks.
“In nearly all the cases, those who are attacked are illegal fishermen, also known as foot-fishermen who have encroached on the animals’ territory,” he says.
He says that there are many victims who have been suffering in silence after escaping from the jaws of hippos.
Joshua Otieno, also a fisherman, observes that an influx of former flower farm workers into the lake has played a part in the increased cases of attacks.
He explains that seasoned fishermen are aware of the hippos’ territory and keep away unlike the former workers who venture into the lake blindly.
“No licensed fisherman has been attacked by hippos for years. The only way to avert these deadly attacks is by addressing the issue of poaching,” he says.
Following the increased cases of attacks, the Friends of Lake Naivasha lobby group is now calling for the culling of hippos.
According to the group’s chairman Peter Muthui, the animals have become wild and unmanageable, attacking tourists as well as legal and licensed fishermen at will.
He notes that last year, more than five people were killed by hippos in the lake and over 15 others seriously injured, with three of them permanently paralysed.
He acknowledges that advocating for the culling of the animals is controversial, but is quick to note that there is no other solution to the problem.
“The number of hippos around the lake has in the last five years tripled and the animals have been raiding nearby farms and attacking fishermen at will,” he says.
Muthui adds that the situation has been worsened by the closure of wildlife corridors and fencing of riparian land where the animals used to roam and graze.
A senior Kenya Wildlife Service officer who declined to be named, however ruled out culling as a solution, noting that a census and research needs to be carried out to establish the number of the hippos before action is taken.
“We have at times been forced to shoot dead wild hippos. We always advise the public to keep off the animals’ territories,” he says. He said the hippos are the main attraction for visitors to the lake.
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