Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers on Saturday morning gunned down a young cheetah trapped inside a dead-end passage at Baraka estate in the outskirts of Voi town after the animal strayed from Tsavo East National Park.
The cheetah was first sighted at the neighboring village of Birikani on Friday night before re-appearing at Baraka on Saturday morning.
There are assumptions that the animal was trying to find its way back to the park but accidentally strayed further in attempts to flee from excited crowds who were chasing it.
News of the canine in the densely-populated neighborhood triggered widespread panic as frightened locals barricaded themselves in their homes.
In a shocking display of ignorance of looming dangers, reckless riders pelted the feral beast with stones in an attempt to provoke it.
In one incident, the snarling cheetah leapt over a short-fence and charged aggressively sending onlookers and riders scattering in panic though no one was hurt. The panicked animal later fled deeper into the sprawling estate in search of a refuge.
By this time, armed KWS rangers arrived and embarked on tracking the animal, while appealing to the crowds to stop provoking it. While attempting to escape, the cheetah lost its way and dashed into an extremely narrow brick perimeter wall and a row of rental houses where it got stuck. The rangers killed it before driving away with the carcass.
Mr. Khalid Mohammed, the village elder of Baraka, said the cheetah was frantically dashing around the estate sending everyone indoors. One old woman who came face-to-face with the animal passed out from fear but was unharmed.
“The animal was going around in circles looking for a route to escape. When it entered into the narrow section with one end closed, it could not get out,” he said.
It remains unclear why KWS opted to kill the trapped cheetah instead of using tranquilizer darts to sedate it. One of the possible reasons, according to residents, is that the animal was too spooked and could not be contained without putting the lives of the residents in danger. Killing a wild animal for KWS, though permissible under exceptional circumstances, is very uncommon.
Efforts to get a comment from KWS officials manning Tsavo Conservation Area were futile.
Last year, a KWS team spent a day watching over an elephant that had strayed in Voi Police Station. The team pushed the elephant into a thick bush where it spent the day. When night came, the elephant was pushed back into the park. In the same year, KWS vets sedated a lion that was trapped inside a well near Voi Wildlife Lodge before releasing it to the wild. In 2017, vets darted a young cheetah trapped inside a goats’ enclosure at New World area in Voi along the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway. The cheetah was put in a cage and later released deep into Tsavo East National Park.
The shooting of the cheetah comes in the wake of mounting fears by residents over possible increase in cases of human-wildlife conflict triggered by mysterious fires erupting inside the protected area. Tsavo East has reported fires that have destroyed over 1,000 acres of land while Tsavo West recently reported a fire outbreak that destroyed vast chunks of land.
The fires, residents say, will drive the wild animals from their habitats inside the park to human settlement areas especially into villages that are adjacent to the national park.
Mr. Bristone Mwazighe, chairperson of Oza Conservancy and a resident of Bura, said the fires were a harbinger of looming challenges of a spike in human-wildlife conflict. He said residents of villages adjacent to the National Park were likely to witness frequent encounters with wild animals.
“There is a need for caution. The fires scare the animals and they are likely to come into human settlement areas until the rains come,” he said.
By Wagema Mwangi