Bernard Chiketo 5 February 2017
HURUNGWE – Intelligent and thus highly adaptable, baboons have added
another cuisine to their growing menu of delicacies, this time the
country’s most priced cash crop – tobacco.
With agricultural practice lacking concern for ecological balance, these
Chocma monkeys are reaping revenge on farmers’ lack of regard for the
environment as they have begun raiding tobacco fields in Hurungwe as they
run out of food due to land clearing for farming and forest razing to cure
the golden leaf.
“Fruit trees have been cut down destroying baboons’ food sources. They are
now eating tobacco, which was previously unheard of.
“This is a message from our ancestral spirits that our custodianship of
the environment has not been properly handled,” Chief Chundu said.
Like in most traditional communities across the country, baboons here are
considered sacred and killing them is prohibited.
“Farmers are having to watch their tobacco fields more than anything
else,” the chief said.
Baboons’ flexibility around pollution impacts and ability to thrive in
human-altered habitats is growing to legendary status.
Baboons have also for years now been a menace in the most unlikely of
environments – timber plantations, due to their uncanny ability to
experiment with various plants for food.
After environmental scales were upset for profit in the establishment of
pine plantations, which drove out their natural predators – pythons,
leopards, crowned eagles and crocodiles – their population grew
exponentially and with depleted food sources, they discovered the delicacy
of pine tree bark – severely threatening the viability of the ailing
Now stripping particularly pine trees for their sweet juice, the baboons
are eating into the timber industry’s profits.
Timber Producers’ Federation (TPF), however, acknowledges the significance
of the Chocma menace.
The problem has been growing. And the whole forestry industry is grappling
with it with little success.
In the late 90s, the Forestry Commission’s commercial arm and Border
Timbers even tried to play dirty by using a seven generation poison to try
to bring the exploding population under control.
This was abandoned because of its devastating impact to the already
disrupted commercial forest ecology.
Borders Timbers admits it is in a fix.
“Baboon damage to plantations has been on the increase over the last 10
“This has resulted in high tree mortality and significantly reduced yield
“Several control methods to reduce the damage are currently under trial at
both company and industry level in Zimbabwe,” it says on its online
The total area with reported baboon damage in Zimbabwe amounted to 5 317
hectares in 2004, according to a TPF unpublished report entitled Review of
baboons, baboon damage and baboon control in plantation forests of Eastern
“The extent of baboon damage in Zimbabwe, expressed as the total
percentage of area damaged by baboons as a function of the total area
planted to pine for the period 2000-2004 has escalated from 10,8 to 13,3
percent despite harvesting activities removing damaged trees,” the report
According to an even earlier unpublished article by the Bindura University
of Science Education entitled An evaluation of the methods baboon damage
assessment in pine plantations in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, the
timber industry was having actual volume losses of 50,45 cubic metres per
Baboon pestilence has been affecting rural areas more severely though.
In Buhera, villagers are having to guard their homes at all times as
baboons are fast developing taste for chickens and goats, while the fields
also need to be watched – stretching human resources.
Jaspen Gurupa, a village head under Chief Nyashanu, said some people are
now abandoning some fields as they have become impossible to protect from
marauding troops of baboons.
“Some families have abandoned some of their fields which are at the edge
of mountains because they had become nearly impossible to protect, opting
instead for fields that are further into the community,” Gurupa said,
adding that the primates are increasingly becoming brazen, hunting for
food even right into the village.
In Hurungwe, however, the community is now aware and are actively trying
to re-establish heterogeneous forests that can sustain baboon populations
and stop them from encroaching into human settlements.
The community is already in a tree planting frenzy.
At Chitindiva Primary School in Chief Chundu’s area has, over the past two
months, planted over 900 trees.
Chamunorwa Govero, a senior teacher at the school, says apart from
planting indigenous fruit trees and others with medicinal value, they are
also raising nurseries for fast growing exotic trees for farmers to use in
their tobacco curing barns.
“We have 3 200 gum trees in our nursery that are ready for distribution
into the community for the establishment of woodlots from where they can
harvest them for use in curing tobacco,” Govero said.
The environmental consciousness has been triggered by Carbon Green Africa
– a private company that negotiated lucrative carbon credit sales that
are benefitting Kariba belt communities through a project designed to
reduce carbon emissions through desertification and degradation.
Titled Kariba REDD+ Project, the initiative has allowed communities
leaders to realise that the region can still make money through
sustainable agricultural practices while cashing in on their standing
“The communities we are working with have been inspired by the fact that
they can convert their clean air and standing forests into money without
breaking any sweat,” Carbon Green Africa managing director Charles Ndondo
For successful regeneration of forests which is hoped to limit human and
animal conflict that is costing the agricultural sector millions of
dollars in losses, responsible farming practices says Hurungwe District
Council’s social services department chairperson Jealousy Matesanwa who
coordinates community projects from carbon credit sales, said.
“We would want everyone to be conscious of their farming activities on the
environment and adopt conservation farming methods to limit the current
wildlife and human conflict that is coming to the fore with baboons
developing a taste for tobacco,” Matesanwa said.