Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe)
Why calls for ‘elephant management’ are getting louder
Without doubt, Zimbabwe has a proud history of wildlife management and successful conservation of its natural resources.
The country has the second largest elephant population in the world and has the fourth largest African rhino population, after South Africa, Namibia and Kenya.
According to the last aerial survey of 2014, there were more than 84 000 elephants against an ecological carrying capacity of not more than 50 000.
Notably, the reality of elephant conservation in the country is that the population has been increasing since 1900, despite concerted attempts to limit the growth.
There is no doubt that the ballooning number of elephants and other animals is ecologically unsustainable.
The increased number of elephants and other dangerous big game is creating its own challenges, like increased human wildlife conflict, destruction of the animals’ own and other species’ habitat, thereby leading to loss of biodiversity and death due to starvation.
The increased population of animals has resulted in human wildlife conflict, which claimed at least 38 lives in 2019.
More so, the increased population of animals, especially elephants, has a significant impact on the habitat and if the number goes unchecked, the animals will threaten the very ecosystem they depend on for survival.
Research has shown that best practices for conservation include reducing the numbers of excess animals through various methods such as translocations and culling, although the later has not been practiced for more than 30 years.
Over the years, the number of wildlife populations have been increasing despite attempts to control them. Between 1960 and 1989, at least 45 000 elephants were culled in Zimbabwe.
The destruction of the ecosystem and human wildlife conflicts are being worsened by climate change induced drought, which this year alone saw nearly 200 elephants succumbing to the adverse weather patterns.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority recorded more human wildlife incidences as animals encroached into human settlements in search of water and food.
In 2018, the Authority and its partners translocated 100 elephants from Save Valley Conservancy, in south-eastern parts of the country, to Rifa Section of Hurungwe Safari Area in the Zambezi Valley.
This was part of a strategy to decongest the conservancy. More elephant relocations still need to be done to depopulate the conservancy and other parts of protected areas.
The situation in most of the parks is desperate because they are overpopulated by elephants.
The impacts are being felt and adequate resources need to be put together to decongest the parks.
Resources permitting, Zimbabwe has enough elephants to repopulate the whole con- tinent.
One of the long-term plans of the Authority is to repopulate former elephant range states within the country and other African states.
It is important to note that the growing number of animals, in most parts of the country, is a result of the Authority’s good management practices.
The wildlife conservation success story in Zimbabwe and the SADC region is not complete without mentioning President ED Mnangagwa, who on several occasions in 2019 met his counterparts in the region to discuss wildlife management issues.
This year alone, President Mnangagwa led a high-powered delegation to Kasane Elephant Summit in Botswana, where he met Presidents Masisi (Botswana), Lungu (Zambia) and Geingob (Namibia).
The four Southern African nations are home to more than half of the world’s elephants.
Angola was represented by its Minister of Environment.
To show his commitment to wildlife management and conservation, in June 2019, President Mnangagwa hosted leaders with the Kavango Zambezi (KAZA TFCA) during the Victoria Falls Wildlife Economy Summit.
Needless to mention that the success story in wildlife management is not an accident, it is a result of good management practices that has resulted in many stakeholders stampeding to work with the wildlife management Authority over the last two years.
This year alone, several conservation partnerships were signed with the approval of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. The Office of the President and Cabinet gave the nod to some of the agreements.
The animal relocation is going to be the only solution to deal with the overpopulation of animals in Hwange National Park and other elephant ranges in the country.
When the park was created in 1928, it had the ecological carrying capacity of 15 000 elephants, but to date it is carrying between 45 000 and 53 000, which is clearly unsustainable.
Translocations can be done to ease pressure on the ecosystem in the protected areas, especially the country’s main elephant ranges, namely Hwange Matetsi and South-East Lowveld.
Without doubt, translocations of surplus wildlife will save the flora and fauna from further damage, because the biggest threat to the survival of our wildlife is loss of habitat.
Loss of habitat is a result of the animals’ overpopulation, especially elephants and of late, effects of climate change.
Elephants have a tendency of knocking down trees. This has resulted in the destruction of vegetation in the game parks.
This destruction of vegetation in wildlife areas is also affecting other animal species, for example, certain bird species can only breed at certain heights. Therefore, if certain trees are knocked down, the birds’ breeding cycles are affected.
Hence, the need to translocate the animals cannot be overemphasised.
Without doubt, communities bear the brunt of sharing borders with wildlife, hence the need for them to benefit from the resource through infrastructure development, especially from proceeds of sport hunting.
The expansion of human settlements and the associated agricultural activities in the semi-arid areas, where most elephants currently survive, has also created human wildlife conflicts.
This is one of the major challenges facing our marginalised communities, especially those living in areas adjacent to protected areas.
Some of the conflicts include destruction of crops and houses (thatch), while people are killed or maimed. There is also loss of livestock while diseases are passed from wildlife to livestock and domestic pets.
The costs incurred from these conflicts are insurmountable given that some of the affected people entirely rely on their crops and livestock for survival.
Communities are a key player in the fight against poaching and they are a sure way of protecting the animals, hence their involvement in wildlife management.
It is an undisputable fact that if more economic opportunities are created for local communities, it will increase their tolerance of sharing boarders with the animals.
Tinashe Farawo is the Head of Communications at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org