Every night, residents of Kiterere village in Oruba Ragana ward, Migori County, are woken up by the incessant howls of prowling hyenas and wild dogs.
The beasts are drawn to the village by the shambolic state of the nearby Lichota public cemetery, which lies about 8km from the county headquarters.
Locals live in constant fear of attacks from the animals, which have started digging up shallow graves and pulling out bodies at the unfenced burial ground.
Residents often wake up to scary scenes in the morning – human body parts and bones scattered all over the open fields.
The cemetery neighbours a disputed land where the county government plans to build its new headquarters.
Besides having to deal with the mess created by the night prowlers and threats to their safety, Ragana residents complain about the stench wafting from the shallow graves.
“We are not just scared of looming attacks from the hyenas and wild dogs. The stench from the graveyard is overpowering. Living here has become a nightmare,” said resident Emma Ombura.
“We have been coming across badly mutilated bodies which have been pulled from the shallow graves and abandoned in the open.”
Many graves at the cemetery are shallow, partly because they are dug in a hurry to bury unclaimed bodies brought in covered in blankets and placed in body bags.
“The public health department has exposed residents to a health hazard. We are tormented by the sight of the bodies and the night visits from the hyenas and wild dogs, which are big threat to our lives,” said Jared Odhiambo.
The Nation.Africa team noticed that the animals had tried to dig up 10 fresh shallow graves the previous night. Pieces of torn blankets and body bags were strewn at the scene.
Mrs Ombura noted that marauding hyenas howl deep into the night as they fight over bodies.
Children who graze animals in the area often stumble on the remains and are reluctant to venture out, she said.
Hudson Saisi described the presence of the animals as ominous. He said they could attack villagers if no action is taken to prevent them entering the cemetery.
Digging up shallow graves
Oruba Ragana Ward Rep Malan Ogega said the county government had failed to secure the cemetery and properly manage it.
“We have lost sheep and goats to the wild animals in past attacks. What is happening at the cemetery is quite worrying,” he said.
In October 2017 residents complained about stray dogs causing havoc at the cemetery by digging up the shallow graves and dragging bodies into the open.
Public health officials swung into action, baited the dogs and reduced their numbers.
But the cemetery has remained unguarded and poorly maintained.
Residents say the county government lacks a proper plan of disposing of unclaimed bodies. Bodies are buried secretly before burial permits are obtained, they said.
Contacted for comment, Environment executive Rebecca Maroa said her Health counterpart Kephas Nyamita was in a better position to comment on the issue.
“I’ve been working from home due to Covid-19 restrictions. The issue can best be handled by the health department,” she said.
For his part, Mr Nyamita noted that the facility had been dormant since the county government took over its operations from the defunct Migori municipal council.
“We have not issued any burial permits to people to bury their relatives at the cemetery. In fact, the county government has never rehabilitated the facility for use since it took over from the former Migori municipality,” he said.