You're an elderly widow in a rural village of north Kenya. You don't have a pension, state-supported healthcare or even a bank account. Your entire life savings are in the form of cattle. You spend your days caring for your herd of 10 - they give you milk, they cushion you from unexpected bills, and they should be enough to support you for the rest of your life. Unless, of course, they are stolen. This was the awful scenario Mama Kawai awoke to on the morning of December 15th 2016.
Despite communities making significant progress towards breaking cycles of conflict, cattle rustling is still a very real and disruptive crime in northern Kenya. NRT's peace team works around the clock with warriors, elders, community leaders and conservancy management to address key challenges around stock theft, and broker dialogue between communities in affected areas. As well as this, NRT works closely with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and 51 Degrees Ltd. to support rangers in their anti-stock theft efforts.
With cattle raids anticipated to escalate over the December holidays, Lewa and NRT formed the temporary Charlie 1 team. Identifying stock theft hotspots in the area where eastern Laikipia borders southern Samburu, they were tasked specifically with anti-stock theft operations. Charlie 1 was made up of 3 rangers from Oldonyiro, 2 from Il Ngwesi, 2 from Lekurruki, and one each from Leparua and Nasuulu conservancies. They were overseen by Lewa Commander Philip Lelelit and deployed from 9th December 2016 to 9th January 2017.
When Mama Kawai awoke to find 6 of her 10 cows had been stolen, she reported it to the Lekurruki rangers, more for formality than for any hope of getting them back, or bringing the thieves to justice.
The incident escalated up the chain to Charlie 1 Commander Philip. "We immediately reacted and put cut-offs along the exit roads" he recalls. "The team managed to pick up the footprints of 4 cows being driven by 4 men. One of Mrs. Kawai's cows was a big bull, so his footprints were distinct and easy to follow."
Charlie 1 followed those tracks for 126 kilometres over 6 days. They were lead to village in Samburu County, where they used local intelligence to narrow down their search to the culprit's household. Before making an arrest, the Charlie 1 team held a meeting with the area chief, and local elders. "Once we get the livestock back, the case is handed over to the Chief" explains Philip, "we need his full support." The cattle were recovered without incident, and hearing of the widow's plight, a local samaritan volunteered their lorry to assist with the return. The Chief decided to fine the thieves two cows each for their crime, all of which went to the widow.
"She was so grateful she was in tears" says Philip. "She said repeatedly that this would never have happened without this team. She lost 4 cows and ended up getting 8 back. She wants to come to Lewa Headquarters and thank Lewa and NRT in person herself!"