Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe)

Tinashe Farawo, Sunday Mail

April 11, 2021

How to manage human-wildlife conflict

Photo: ceredit/copyright Maurice Schutgens

It was an unexpected yet welcome visit. The First Lady, Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa’s visit to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals where a jumbo attack victim was hospitalised touched hearts and souls, as much as it also brought to the fore the perennial issue of human wildlife conflict. A fortnight ago, the First Lady visited a 30-year-old mother of three, Mrs Anna Muswani, who sustained multiple injuries after an elephant attack at Musamba Fishing Camp in Kariba. Mrs Muswani, whose eldest child is nine, was walking alongside three other women in search of a fish permit when they found themselves in the midst of an elephant herd. She was admitted at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, battling for life.

Human-wildlife conflict (HWC), which is as old as humanity, has for years been a topical issue in Zimbabwe. Fortunately, the issue is now in the corridors of the highest offices, thanks to the First Lady’s gesture. Human Wildlife Conflict can be defined as “any interaction between humans and wildlife that results in negative impacts on human social, economic or cultural life, on the conservation of wildlife populations, or on the environment.” These conflicts have resulted in loss of life and livelihoods. 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. Thousands of cattle, donkeys and goats were also killed, not mentioning thousands of hectares of crops destroyed, in some cases impoverishing communities. More resources have also been mobilised to deal with human wildlife conflicts and this includes dedicated vehicles and awareness campaigns for quick and easy reaction to distress calls from communities.

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 Program 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.

There is no doubt that Campfire aims to provide benefits to communities through the use of natural resources. The authority is 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.

Again last year, our officers captured a stray cheetah in Beitbridge and it was translocated back into the park. There are 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 this is a way of depopulating animals where they are congested and repopulate other areas.

This move will definitely minimise cases of human wildlife conflict and destruction of the animals’ habitat. It is important to note that it’s not always the case that stray animals need to be translocated. For example, a few years ago, a stray lion was captured in the Mabale area. The lion was captured and released in the Kazuma National Park area. Due to territorial fights, it seems the lion could not settle in the Kazuma Area. It then moved to Zambia where it was unfortunately killed as a problem animal.

Recently, the Painted Dog Conservation group assisted in the capture and translocation of wild dogs in Tsholotsho which were killing livestock. The dogs were successfully captured and released deep in Hwange National Park. Unfortunately, this did not work to protect the community livestock as the dogs found their way back to Tsholotsho and continued killing livestock. A plan was then made to recapture the dogs which was again successful and this time the dogs were translocated to Mana Pools. “I am made to believe that the same dogs then moved to Dande where they continued killing livestock. They were again recaptured and taken back to where they are currently at Painted Dog Conservation,” said Hwange regional manager Mr Sam Chibaya.

In another case, lions were colored in Chizaria and they moved all the way from Chizarira to Hwange National Park but unfortunately due to territorial fights, the lions could not get deeper into the park but remained on the periphery of the park causing a lot of problems to the adjacent communities. However, the colored one later died from wounds after a buffalo attack. In 2020, lions killed a considerable number of livestock in the Binga area. A local PH was engaged by both Parks and Binga Rural District Council to assist in dealing with the problem. One lion was shot and killed but what later followed was attacks from animal rights activist groups.

The problem persisted with more lions coming and this time close to the Binga development area. A call was made to the community particularly those that complained when the first lion was shot to contribute towards capturing the lions as an alternative. Not even a single person responded to the call up until a decision was made to save the community and their livestock since their lives were now at risk. The second lion was then shot and no one complained because they had been given an opportunity to contribute but they didn’t want to part ways with their money.

“What is clear is that animal rights groups do not value community lives especially that of black people as they do not make noise when we are either injured or killed by a lion or when we lose our livestock to lions,” said an elephant survivor from Hwange, Biggie Shoko.

Although capture and translocation is expensive, there is no guarantee that the captured animals in the case of lions and wild dogs will not cause further damage after release. Whilst it might be important to consider capturing as an option, it is also critical to note that these animals are dangerous.

“In the interest of serving community lives and their livestock, sometimes it’s necessary to take instant decisions to eliminate the problem animals,” said Mr Chibaya.

Tinashe Farawo is the head of communications at the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.