Joseph Atuma had fished in Lake Baringo since he was 12 and, despite one or two encounters with hippos and crocodiles, none had ever attacked him until one evening in September 2018, when a hippo tore through his canoe, grabbed his left leg, and ripped part of it off.
“It was hiding in the bushes, very near to the shore, a place where I wouldn’t expect a hippo to be. And it caught me by surprise,” the 42-year-old says.
“It sank its teeth on to the wooden canoe and into my leg. Very little meat was left on my bone, between the knee and the foot,” he adds, as he shows the scars that remain.
Lake Baringo, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, is one of the country’s biggest freshwater lakes. From the main highway in the small town of Marigat, the beautiful golden yellow sun casts its rays on the waters as it rises, making the lake glimmer. The fishermen are already out, their boats dotting the calm gleaming water.
Mr Atuma says he has just resumed fishing in the lake, five years after the hippo attack.
“This is my bread and butter. I have tried some odd jobs here and there, but I cannot sustain my family,” the father of four says.
He says that water levels have risen over the years, and he now docks his boat on what used to be the foundation of the local church. It is now covered by the lake’s waters – just like homes, schools, hospitals, tarmacked roads, and even the offices of the Kenya fisheries department.
But you cannot really tell any of these buildings existed. They have all been swallowed by the lake, and communities have been pushed out, forcing them to live further away.
Environmentalists say the lake has doubled in size over the last decade because of heavy rainfall linked to climate change.
But people still come back because the lake is their lifeline. Dozens of women walk down to fetch water in big yellow cans to take back home. Others are washing their laundry on the shores; and many others are cleaning up the fresh fish brought to them by the fishermen.
All this as giant hippos and the stealthy, deadly predators, the Nile crocodiles, are in the water nearby.
Residents say that with the lake getting bigger, the crocodile population has increased and the waters are now heavily infested with the predators. They say there has also been an increase in the number of hippos, who bathe near the shores and now even closer to people’s homesteads.
This has increased the risk to the lives of people, and children have been dragged into the lake by crocodiles, never to be seen again.
Source : BBC News