Kuki Gallmann, a conservationist best known for her book I Dreamed of Africa, was ambushed and shot while she drove across her conservancy in Kenya Sunday morning.
Gallmann, 73, was shot in the stomach and “severely injured” while surveying her property with rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service, according to her brother-in-law Nigel Adams and a press release from a farmers’ association of which she’s a member.
She was flown to a hospital in Nairobi for treatment, and was still conscious and speaking after the attack, according to The New York Times.
Her conservancy, the Laikipia Nature Conservancy, has been the center of a bloody battle for weeks, as a large-scale drought has pushed cattle-herders to extreme measures to try and find grazing land.
“You have nomadic herders who are moving into private wildlife conservancies with thousands of heads of cattle,” Peralta said. “And in response, the Kenyan government launched a military-style operation to push the herders out. But what we’ve seen is an escalation of violence. Police have killed lots of cows. And the herders have responded by burning tourist lodges on the properties.”
In fact, Gallmann was said to be surveying arson damage inflicted on her property, when she was attacked.
Members of the Pokot and Samburu tribes have long grazed on conservancy land in Kenya, but over the past few years things have changed. Herders have brought more and more cows, killed other wildlife, and begun to vandalize property. Gallmann’s daughter, Sveva Gallmann, told NPR last month that the escalation concerned her.
“That’s not just grass,” she said. “That is heavily politicized violence. And that is what’s much more worrying about this situation.”
She added that she doesn’t think the herders even own many of the cows.
“There’s a lot of, actually, politicians, people within the police, people within the administration storing their wealth in cattle and laundering ill-gotten money through cattle,” she said.
Government officials deny those claims.
Kenya has a national election coming up in August, and local land owners also blame politicians for inciting herders to push their cattle onto privately-owned land as a way of boosting their popularity, reports the United Kingdom’s The Telegraph.
In an interview with NPR Sunday, Martin Evans, the chair of the Laikipia Farmers’ Association, agreed that the battle between the herders and the Kenya Defense forces is politically motivated.
“It started a year ago,” Evans said. “At the time it started, there was plenty of rain, it was nothing to do with lack of grass at that time so yes, I think it’s definitely being pushed by politicians.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s office issued a statement warning politicians in the area not to inflame the situation with “reckless rhetoric.”
“Politicians encouraging invasions of privately-owned property or attacks on individuals can expect strong deterrent action in terms of the law,” Kenyatta’s spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, said.
In the last month, the violence seemed to be escalating on the Gallmann ranch. Herders burned down a famous resort on her property, and she exchanged text messages last week with The New York Times that showed her concern.
“Pokot militia openly carrying firearms,” Gallmann wrote on April 15. “Not just herders. Group of armed men without livestock. 13 firearm spotted.”
Gallmann was born in Italy, and published her memoir I Dreamed of Kenya in 1991. It was turned into a movie starring Kim Basinger in 2000.
NPR’s Eyder Peralta contributed to this report.
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