AllAfrica/Herald (Zimbabwe)

18 AUGUST 2020

FOR residents of Kariba, every night comes with fresh fears of the lurking danger of rampaging wild animals, particularly elephants that have gone on a house-destroying streak in search of food and injuring people in their path.

Recent events where Neily Kapanga (16) escaped death by a whisker after an elephant yanked her from the cabin she was sleeping in, laid her between its legs, preparing to trample her before it was distracted by the noise of neighbours, bring to the fore the deepening human-wildlife conflict afflicting the town.

A few blocks away in the same Batonga suburb, an elephant broke windows and removed the window frame while people were sleeping inside, before taking food.

Tales of destruction, fear and trauma are commonplace in Nyamhunga, Mahombekombe, Baobab Ridge, Aerial Hill, Mica Point and Heights suburbs.

Baboons forage and pose a menace by day while elephants are a nightmare by night.

The Herald tracked Neily who narrated her ordeal saying she went to sleep with her siblings, mother and grandmother around 8pm in their cabin last Saturday. She was awoken by the noise of the cabin crumbling.

In a state of panic, she got up and tried to escape through the back opening that had formed before she was grabbed by the waist and hauled to the ground.

“It grabbed me again and I found myself in between its legs. I started crawling under it before it was disturbed by neighbours who were making noise and throwing objects at it. Otherwise, I would have been trampled to death,” said Neily.

It was only after a while that she realised she had been gored on the thigh before her family and neighbours took her to Nyamhunga Clinic where she was stitched and discharged.

Meanwhile, the elephant had piled some household goods including a television set on her sleeping grandmother Esther Katongo (66).

“I just felt heavy things falling on me as it scoured the room with its trunk in search of food. I could not move and as a result all the commotion went on while I was stuck in the fallen house,” said Gogo Katongo.

After the horror attack, which has left many residents in shock and traumatised, Neily has not been able to sleep at their house and now sleeps at a neighbour’s place.

Days later, another elephant attacked residents at Number 2066 in Batonga, ripping open a window and getting sugar, flour and rice.

These and many other incidents have ignited a raging conflict between three seeming protagonists — the community, animals and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks).

The multifaceted conflict is centred on animals increasingly invading houses, residents establishing gardens and fowl runs, which have been a causative factor and target of the animals.

Residents in Mahombekombe, to a larger extent, have established gardens that they guard jealously against animals such as elephants, zebras and baboons raising conflict as they seek to scare the animals away.

It is understood that the stoning and noise agitates the animals, which attack the next person they meet.

There has also been a proliferation of cages to raise chickens and rabbits, which need stockfeed.

Therein lies the challenge, as several bags of feed and maize have been consumed by elephants. Elephants have a keen sense of smell with their advanced olfactory receptors that enable them to detect smell five times more than humans and with a sense of smell twice sharper than that of dogs.

This has seen elephants straying more into residential areas in search of grain.

In some cases, several bags of poultry feed and chicks have been eaten.

On its part, ZimParks has been calling on people to remove the stockfeed from the cages at night.

However, that has since attracted the elephants which follow the trail to the house and try to open windows and doors, with some going as far as ripping open the roofs.

The elephants have also brought misery to vendors at the Nyamhunga, Jumbo and Mahombekombe vegetable markets where they have breached the parameter fence and consumed vegetables and fruits.

As the conflict escalates, residents have demanded action from ZimParks saying it should have a fund to compensate for lost property, lives and injuries.

Most residents say ZimParks should do more to reduce the conflict currently raging through carrying out awareness campaigns and being responsive when people encounter challenges with the animals.

“The general feeling is that humans come second after animals. If an animal is injured or if something is done to the animals, ZimParks is quick to act, but is not doing the same when people are affected. There is need for better engagement with residents so that they are part of the solution, not the problem,” said a resident.

ZimParks attributes the increased incidents of conflict to the growing population of animals against a small carrying capacity by the country’s national parks and wildlife areas.

ZimParks spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said human and wildlife conflict had become worrisome with more than 50 people being killed and 40 others being injured countrywide since January.

“Human wildlife conflict is not only happening in Kariba; we have the same problems in Mbire, Hwange, Chipinge, Bikita, Plumtree, Lupane and Guruve to name a few.

“We need to work together to deal with the problem of animals encroaching into human settlements. Many people’s livelihoods have also been destroyed,” he said following enquiries from residents in an interactive engagement.

Interestingly, land has also emerged to be at the centre of the conflict, as the population grows and demand for land increases.

The need for development in towns around protected areas has seen forests where animals used to get food shrinking.

In Kariba, game corridors used by animals are being closed as buildings mushroom. This has seen animals being forced to use alternative routes to Lake Kariba to drink water.

Kariba Municipality has said it wants to come up with a masterplan that would demarcate the game corridors.

However, residents believe that development of the masterplan was akin to putting the cart before the horse, as land had been allocated to people with construction of structures already underway.