OVER 250 people were killed by wild animals in incidents of human-wildlife conflict over the last five years.
This year alone, 40 lives have been lost.
The most recent incident involved a 35-year-old man who was trampled to death by an elephant at Pardon Farm in Kwekwe on August 29. Alois Mariyo was killed while reportedly taking pictures close to a herd of stray elephants. He left behind an expecting wife and two young children.
The Mariyo family is still in shock and struggling to come to terms with the horrific incident. Alois’ father, Timothy, says his son’s death was tragic. He maintains his son was not taking pictures close to the elephants.
“My son did not take any selfies with the elephants; everyone who was here can testify. How can one take a selfie in such circumstances?” The elephants had injured a boy from a neighbouring farm prior to attacking Alois. That boy is still battling for life,” said Mr Mariyo. “I was in Harare on August 28 when I got a call from my now-late son informing me about the stray elephants. I then phoned the officer-in-charge at Mbizo Police Station and I am sure he is the one who informed ZimParks (Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority), who came here.
“I came back to Kwekwe the following day at about 5.30 pm.”
He later received a phone call from one of the farm workers informing him that his son was being chased by an elephant.
“I dashed to the scene. I also phoned the police again, who also promised to inform ZimParks. “It was getting dark but we continued with the search.”The search party noticed what appeared to be a sleeping elephant. “When people from ZimParks came around 11 pm, they fired a shot at the elephant but discovered that the jumbo was already dead.
“We then started looking for my son; we then found his naked body a few metres away from the dead elephant. It’s so painful to lose a son this way,” he said.
Alois’ death follows a grim warning from ZimParks of more cases of human-wildlife conflict during the drier summer season.
Wild animals usually venture into human communities in search of water sources around this time of the year.
The Kwekwe incident has brought back to the fore concerns over the country’s burgeoning elephant population.
Zimbabwe has an ecological carrying capacity 45 000 elephants but currently carries in excess of 100 000 jumbos.
Mr Mariyo believes that in light of the growing incidents of human-wildlife conflict, Government should enact a law that provides for compensation of victims.
“Have the elephants become more important than human beings?” he asked rhetorically. Because if a person kills an elephant, he or she will face a jail term. But in this case, my son has been killed by an elephant which strayed into our habitat and yet there is no compensation. Government should do something, there should be some form of compensation when one is killed by animals.”
The late Alois Mariyo was the 40th person to be killed by an animal this year.
According to ZimParks communications manager Mr Tinashe Farawo, elephants are responsible for 50 percent of these unfortunate deaths. “This year is not looking good. We are likely to witness more cases and problems in communities because as we move into the drier months of the year, like around this time, until the onset of the rain season, water sources within the national parks will run dry.”
And, naturally, elephants will move into human settlements in search of water and food.“When they do that, their interaction with humans increases and more cases of people being killed by animals will be recorded.”
The elephant population is increasing at an average rate of 5 percent per annum.
Zimbabwe cannot cull the animals because of international laws protecting “endangered” animal species like elephants.
“This year alone, we have lost almost 40 lives due to human-wildlife conflict and 50 percent of those cases are human-elephant conflicts.
“So, in other words, elephants are contributing to the bulk of the cases. For the other 50 percent, 40 percent are mainly crocodiles and then, of course, other animals like lions, buffaloes and hippos,” he said. “We are always trying to be on the ground reacting to these cases.
“Also, when we receive a distress call from a community, ideally, the first thing we would want to do is to translocate the animal to a safer place or back into the park.”
He, however, said translocating animals was difficult proposition because of inadequate resources.
As a result, the animals are often killed.
Currently, there is no law compelling Government or ZimParks to compensate victims of human-wildlife conflict.
“At the moment, there is no policy on compensation which allows us to compensate victims,” Mr Farawo added.
“But, before the coming in of coronavirus, when people were allowed to gather, we were moving around in communities, especially in hotspots, to gather views on how best we can deal with these problems so that we can at least have a policy.”
Zimbabwe has the second-largest jumbo population in Africa behind Botswana, which is also battling soaring cases of human-wildlife conflict. Southern Africa is home to 61 percent of the world’s jumbos.
In 2019, regional leaders, including President Mnangagwa, met in Kasane, Botswana, to discuss how to handle the growing conflict between wildlife and humans. They want Southern Africa to be allowed to sell its elephants as a way of managing the growing population and generate resources for conservation programmes.
However, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has maintained its ban on the sale of elephants or their products.
This has placed Zimbabwe in a Catch-22 situation. “We are also learning from other countries like Botswana on how best we can do it. They have tried the compensation route and it seems not to be working.
“We do not get funding from the fiscus, we are not supported by central Government and we don’t have much resources.
“Our elephant population, for example, has been increasing at an average rate of 5 percent annually. Apart from killing people and injuring people, the elephants are also destroying their own habitat.
“The destruction of that habitat is also disturbing other species,” said Mr Farawo.
It is estimated that over 7 000 hectares of crop are destroyed by elephants annually