While majority of Kitui residents engage in livestock keeping as an economic activity, 71-year-old Peter Maundu rears tortoises for a living.
Maundu rears over a thousand 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 commonest in the remote part of Kitui.
“Having realized that severe climatic conditions and inadequate rainfall could not sustain crops here, I chose to change tact and start a Tortoise Farm and of course with licensing from KWS,” he said.
The former administrator said the rocky terrain of his home area was most suitable for conserving the endangered animals.
He said he started off with 25 tortoises but the numbers had increased significantly in a span of 14 years.
“I have more than 2,000 tortoises in both my farms here at Voo and in Kibwezi, Makueni County,” boasted Maundu.
He stocks three species of the amphibian including the pancake, leopard and hingeback 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 ten and fifteen dollars depending on market dynamics,” said the farmer.
The leopard is large and round like a foot ball 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 were abound.
“Feeding the animals is not easy because they only feed on greens which are hard to get in this area. I’m forced to dig deep into my pockets to ensure the tortoises are well fed and free of diseases,” he
He added that securing the animals was costly since he had to surround 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 saying he was forced to sell them through brokers which weighed down on his income.