Painting my cows shocking pink may be the only defence against the predations of Samburu rustlers armed with assault rifles who have hit us six times so far this year.
My applications for a firearms licence have been turned down by the police four times. In the past, when we’ve called for help from the police, there has been silence on the radio waves, a kind of sigh of despair in VHF. Or trucks of uniformed men have appeared a day later, hungrily regarding our fat hoggetts while we point over the horizon and exclaim, ‘Our cattle went thaddaway...’
Everybody is being raided — not just us. It’s the young warriors out to prove themselves in an age when fun is accelerated by possession of a Nokia phone and a really cool AK-47. We’ve tried to remonstrate with the ‘firestick’ elders, the name given to the age set who are supposed to have authority over the youth. But I’ve discovered that one clan of Samburu — nicknamed the ‘dung of the elephant’ because they are such a big family — have decided to be hard heads. Their gunfire hasn’t ceased for months.
A moonlit night is the rustlers’ time to attack the stock enclosures that we call bomas. It’s an eerie feeling to advance across the plain with a torch to follow tracks or in a vehicle with the brights on when you know there may be a man aiming down the light beam with a gun. Full-moon raids also come after the dances when the warriors are goaded into raiding by maidens who taunt them for their cowardice and hold out the promise of a roll in the hay if they can prove themselves.
The way a young blood is forced into rustling in this manner was described wonderfully by a youth who spoke to the anthropologist Paul Spencer: ‘You are standing there in the dance, and a girl starts to sing. She raises her chin high and you see her throat. And then you want to go and steal some cattle yourself. You start to shiver. You leave the dance and stride into the night, afraid of nothing...’
After the warriors fired so many bullets on the farm this year that we’ve picked up 60 brass casings following a string of raids, we began to sense there was no cavalry about to come to our rescue. Our workers resorted to fashioning nails into arrowheads. Now each man carries a bow as sturdy as the ones the English used to defeat the French at Agincourt.
Inspired by the kidnapping counter-measures of spooks in Iraq, I investigated buying GPS transmitters. These would be put down the cows’ throat in bolus form and sit in their first stomachs sending out signals that can be tracked on a satellite — so we can follow our stolen animals. But the transmitters are more expensive than the cows. At our children’s school, I borrowed an infantry basic training manual from a master who had attended Sandhurst. I marched about to direct the digging of foxholes, and so on, but realised we have little more to ambush the rustlers with than rocks and insults.
I had daydreams about making coconut grenades like the ones the Swiss Family Robinson used to deter pirates. While on jungle patrol with the Colombian Army last year I was shown how easy it is to manufacture anti-personnel mines. In the event, we deployed fireworks purchased from a toyshop ahead of Guy Fawkes night.
This proved quite effective as I heard back on the bush telegraph that a group of raiders became convinced that we possessed machine guns and tracer fire. Another big hit was the razor wire I bought from our local ironmongers and coiled in zigzags around the bomas. One morning after a very violent raid we found the wire dripping with gore. But the best defence system of all is a set of jolly big padlocks at the boma gate. A young Samburu might spend hours hammering away at a Union padlock with his knobkerrie and never break through.
As I was boarding a plane earlier today for work in another part of Africa the report came through that four bandits had been sighted on the plains above the farm. The police responded incredibly quickly and engaged them, but they got pinned down with such a storm of withering fire that the officers had to call for helicopter support. The firefight is going on as I write this, feeling rotten that I am not there. The cavalry finally arrived — but when I get home I am still taking that pot of dye. Would a brave warrior be seen stealing a pink cow?