There are many implications and strange consequences of climate change that we haven’t even begun to contemplate yet, and this story of crocodiles and hippos in Kenya is just one.

     Joseph Atuma had fished in Lake Baringo in Kenya 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 my knee and my foot.”

     Lake Baringo, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, is one of the country’s biggest freshwater lakes. Mr. Atuma says that water levels there 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. 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.

     Residents say that with the lake getting bigger, the Nile crocodile population has increased substantially, and the waters are now heavily infested with these large predators. There has also been a large increase in the number of hippos. Both of these changes have increased the risk to people’s lives. There have been more examples of children being dragged into the lake by crocodiles, never to be seen again. Joseph Atuma’s experience is being repeated more often.

     Winnie Keben, a mother of six, was lucky to survive a crocodile attack. She now wears a prosthetic leg attached to her left hip. “I had just finished fetching water from the lake and, as I was washing my feet, I saw a crocodile. I jumped and shouted. I tried to escape but it attacked and grabbed my leg pulling me into the water,” she says. “I screamed and raised my hand so people could see me. My husband was nearby. As soon as he saw me, he rushed to my rescue. As it had gripped my foot, we both attempted to fight it. It eventually released my foot, and bit my thigh, breaking it. An onlooker grabbed a machete and rescued me, but it had chewed of my leg.”

     She stayed in hospital for six months and, when she was discharged, she found her home and land had been submerged by water. She now lives several kilometers away from the lake, and has never gone back near its waters. “So many things have been changing gradually. A long time ago we didn’t have floods, rainy seasons were predictable, and we would farm for our food. Nowadays, when it rains, we experience loss and destruction. “I am scared that if I go near the waters, an attack may happen again, and I’m also afraid that the lake may find me even here because it keeps moving closer,” Mrs. Keben adds.

     Residents of the area have files a court case alleging that the Kenyan government has so far failed to respond to the climate crisis, and they are suffering from poverty and illness because of the growing size of the lake, not to mention the loss of limbs and children. They are demanding financial compensation for themselves and other families that have lost ancestral land, farms and livestock, and have been exposed to water-borne diseases such as malaria and cholera, as well as more predators.

     “Entities responsible for putting in place relevant climate change policies to guarantee the right to a clean and healthy environment failed, refused and/or neglected to do so,” according to court papers filed on their behalf by a legal Advice Centre, Kituo Cha Sheria. “When the court finally makes a determination, it might lay down certain principles, and it might become a path-breaking precedent in the area of climate change,” says Omondi Owino, an environment lawyer at the Centre. The government has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

     As for Mr. Atuma, the lake still remains the source of his livelihood – but he lives in constant fear of crocodiles and hippos. “The water level is quite high now. Lake animals – hippos and crocodiles – come close to the shores. More of them venture on-shore, and this means that they come close to people.”

     We all have our ideas of what climate change means, and will mean, but few of us have to consider an increased possibility of being eaten by Nile crocodiles or bitten by lake hippos.

     It is a sobering thought, and a strange consequence of the climate change we are all facing.

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    Very interesting about the rising waters of Lake Baringo. A similar thing is happening apparently on a much larger scale in Lake Turkana. I spent nearly a month at Loiyangalani some 50 years ago for a solar eclipse. It was a much smaller village than it is now, with only huts for the El Molo, Samburu, and Turkana. The El Molo were the only tribe that fished in the lake- the others were cattle hurders and considered fishing was below them. They measured their wealth by the number of cattle; the El Molo had none. There was a tiny dirt air strip in the wannabe big game hunters would fly in and stay at the small lodge, so that they could catch some of the huge Nile Perch that lived in the lake. They couldn’t stuff the fish as trophies, of course, but could enjoy an expensive dinner of their catch. The great hazard of the lake was crocodiles. We set up our telescopes on a small peninsula of land extending into the lake. They looked like cannons pointing to the sun and the Kenyan government was concerned that the local tribes might attack our camp when the sun disappeared. There was a small contingent of police led by no less than Richard Leakey who were there to protect us. That turned out to be unnecessary. After the eclipse a group of Samburu came over to our camp to thank us with a ceremonial dance. We played games with the men and their spears, who once we had feared when we walked through their village. The El Molo were not concerned by the eclipse, treating it as night fall and when into their huts, coming out when the eclipse was over: just another day.

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