hile majority of Kitui residents engage in livestock keeping as an economic activity, 71-year-old Peter Maundu rears tortoises for a living. Maundu has over 1,000 tortoises on his five-acre farm in Voo village in Kitui East Constituency, more than 70 kilometers away from Kitui Town.
He said he ventured into the rare economic activity in 2005 after it became nearly impossible to grow crops due to perennial droughts which are common in this remote part of Kitui.
Inadequate rainfall could not sustain crops here, and so Maundu chose to start a tortoise farm after securing a licence from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
“It was not easy to acquire the paper (licence),” he says. “I had to travel to Nairobi several times. I spent much of my money and time before KWS finally gave me the license, three years after application.”
With the imminent extinction of the Pancake Tortoise in the country, he located the farm in an area habitable for the reptiles since they are naturally reclusive and thrive well in mountainous areas. He was also asked to provide quarterly reports on how the reptiles were doing.
The farmer also had to assure the local KWS office that he had enough food, water and security for the animals with the office giving him a list of the foods he should have for both mature tortoises and hatchlings. The former administrator said the rocky terrain is most suitable for conserving the endangered animals.
Voo was documented by National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and KWS as a suitable area that could be considered for the management programme of the Pancake Tortoise which is native to Tanzania and Kenya. Its common name refers to the flat shape of its shell, almost like a pancake.
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Maundu, a retired assistant chief, said he started off with 25 tortoises but the numbers have increased significantly in a span of 14 years, growing to more than 2,000 tortoises in both his farms at Voo and in Kibwezi, Makueni County.
I spend more to ensure the tortoises are well fed and free of diseases
Other than the pancake species, Maundu also has leopard and inch pack which he sells to reptile eating countries like USA, Germany and China. “They are usually sold young when they are about nine inches long and can fetch between 10 and 15 dollars depending on market dynamics,” he said.
The leopard tortoise is large and round like a football and attractively marked with leopard like spots on its shell while the Pancake is thin and flat with a flexible shell. Though the venture has enabled him to support his family and educate his children, Maundu said challenges abound.
“Feeding the animals is not easy because they only feed on greens which are hard to get in this semi-arid area. I’m forced to spend more to ensure the tortoises are well fed and free of diseases,” he noted.
He added that securing the animals was costly since he had to fence the farm with a perimeter wall compounded with wire mesh to prevent the animals from roaming away besides keeping predators away.
He also decried the lack of direct and lucrative markets for tortoises. He sells them through brokers which eats into his income.
Maundu has entered into an agreement with Exotic International (a company that deals in the exportation and importation of exotic commodities) which earns commission after sales.
The tortoise farmer also cries foul of the long process before a successful delivery of the animals is made. When a market is found, he first has to clear with KWS before he delivers the animals. ( Yobesh Onwong’a, KNA)