Judith Phiri, Features Reporter
AT first, it was one or two calves that would go missing. Even after finding the carcasses by the bushes nearby, the pain of losing the calves was nowhere close to what Mr Dumisani Dube witnessed recently when he lost five calves and ten goat kids.
Mr Dube has been living in Malunga Village, Ward 24 of Matobo North in the sprawling Matabeleland South province not very far from Matobo National Park since 2002. And for the past 19 years, like many of his neighbours, a lot of livestock has been lost to wildlife such as hyenas, leopards and jackals among others. Their area has been characterised by human-wildlife conflict for years but Mr Dube says the incidents are on a rise as the fight for space is growing between people and wild animals.
“I have been here from 2002 and around 2003 to 2006 we used to have the highest number of livestock being attacked by wildlife animals. The cases dropped after 2006. The attacks have been happening here and there, but all of a sudden for the past four years the wildlife attacks started to increase gradually,” he said.
Human-wildlife conflict, which is as old as humanity, has for years been a topical issue in Zimbabwe. According to the Species Survival Commission, human-wildlife conflict occurs when animals pose a direct and recurring threat to the livelihood or safety of people, leading to the persecution of that species. Retaliation against the species blamed often ensues, leading to conflict about what should be done to remedy the situation.
Although this is not a new scenario — people and wildlife have coexisted for millennia — it is one that is becoming much more frequent, serious and widespread, and a global concern for conservation and development alike.
As Mr Dube narrates how in a period of five months he has lost five calves and ten goats, he says hundreds of cattle, donkeys and goats have also been killed, while large hectares of crops have been destroyed, in some cases impoverishing communities.
“We have always reported to the councillor and usually they delay coming to assess the situation on the ground.
What happens with hyenas is that they do not attack in the area that they are staying in. So, most of the times the hyenas that attack our livestock are from other areas nearby. We appeal for help so that our livestock can be saved,” added Mr Dube.
Matobo North Ward 24 councillor Paul Ncube said wildlife attacks on livestock have been a growing concern in the nine villages of the Ward.
“Over the years we continue to receive cases of donkeys, calves and goats that are being attacked by hyenas, jackals and leopards, among others. In a month we can get about 10 reports of these cases and our hunter Scott tries as much as possible to find the trail of the attacking wildlife.
“I too have not been spared just like most of the villagers because at one-time I lost a whole herd of six goats. Some hyenas have been killed but sometimes due to limited resources the animals might be multiplying leading to the high number of reports lately,” said Clr Ncube.
He encouraged villagers to always be alert and make sure that most of their kraals are tightly secure and all their livestock is kraalled with none left wandering off the bushes at night.
Matobo Rural District Council (RDC) chief executive officer Mr Elvis Sibanda said human wildlife conflict has been a challenge to most communities surrounding the national parks, with Matobo not being spared.
“We have a problem of wild animals encroaching into the villagers. Recently with the assistance of the National Parks we managed to translocate a hippopotamus which was causing problems in Ward 24. We have our natural resources officer who works jointly with the National Parks in order to address such issues. Together with a professional hunter we try to constantly attend to those challenges,” said Mr Sibanda.
He also noted that they have been carrying out awareness programmes aimed at conscientising the communities on how to coexist with wildlife and precaution measures to take to avoid being attacked.
“With the lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings, of late, we haven’t been able to go Ward by Ward talking to people about the human wildlife conflict issues. But we do hope that as the lockdown measures and regulations are being relaxed, and seeing that we are hearing an increase in the reports we will be able to go back on the ground soon,” he added.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said for the period January 2021 to date they have received over 800 cases of wildlife attacks on humans with 38 people having died nationally while thousands of livestock which include cattle, donkeys and goats were also killed while thousands of hectares of crops destroyed. He said more resources have also been mobilised to deal with human wildlife conflicts and this included dedicated vehicles and awareness campaigns for quick and easy reaction to distress calls from communities.
“Over the last five years, the authority has been recording increased cases of wildlife invading human settlements resulting in direct conflict with communities in areas adjacent to protected areas. Nearly 500 people were killed in human wildlife conflicts during this period.
And from January about 38 people have died and others sustained varying degrees of injuries. In line with provisions of the Parks and Wildlife Act, about 53 rural districts have appropriate authority status to manage wildlife in their areas under the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire programme). Twenty-three are functional while 12 are doing very well in terms of achieving the objectives of community-based conservation, including management of human wildlife conflicts,” he said.
He added that there was no doubt that Campfire aims to provide benefits to communities through the use of natural resources and the authority was already in the process of developing a Human Wildlife Conflict Management Policy under the Global Environment Facility (GEF6) programme.
“The authority under the directorship of Dr Fulton Mangwanya established a fully-fledged Veterinary Unit to capture and translocate problem animals such as lions, hyenas and crocodiles among others.
The authority has been unduly criticised by some faceless characters on social media for opting for the “easy” option of eliminating problem animals. Early this year, the authority captured four lions which were terrorising villagers at Cross Mabale near Hwange National Park although the fifth lion was eliminated after the lives of the officers were under threat from the marauding predator,” he added.
He also highlighted that last year, their officers captured a stray cheetah in Beitbridge and it was translocated back into the park and there were so many other examples where the authority captured and translocated stray animals back into the park, but needless to mention that the process is expensive and the authority does not have the resources to undertake these procedures as often as it would like to.
In 2018, the authority with the help of partners, translocated 100 elephants from Save Valley and once again it was a way of depopulating animals where they were congested and to repopulate other areas. A research carried out by the Deutsche Welles last year in August showed that in Zimbabwe there was a problem of overpopulation of species like elephants.
It stated that Zimbabwe has more than 85 000 elephants but the country’s National Parks and conservation areas could only handle 55 000. With an annual growth of 4 000, the Hwange National Park holds in excess of 45 000 when it’s carrying capacity is 15 000.
Zimbabwe has been lobbying to reduce its elephant herd and to lift the ban on ivory trade. However, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement between governments, has rejected Zimbabwe’s proposals fearing poaching and the reversal of the gains made in wildlife management.
Zimbabwe is estimated to possess ivory worth US$600 million and some conservationists have alluded that if the country could trade some of the elephants and ivory the money could be put into conservation.