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Zimbabwean game conservancies are bound to experience an over-population problem sooner than later, especially where elephants are involved. The country is bound by international protocols not to cull elephants since the sale of ivory and elephants’ hides and skins is prohibited globally.
Zimbabwe has a number of game reserves teaming with thousands of elephants many of which do not have enough food and inevitably stray into neighbouring human habitants. That is the case near the Jambezi area lying between Hwange and Victoria Falls where most, if not all, people have abandoned intensive agriculture (cropping). That is because roaming elephants devour all the crops planted in that region.
Jambezi was once a veritable agricultural area, supplying Hwange and Victoria Falls with a variety of agricultural products. In the 1950s, a large number of agricultural-minded black people settled in the area, and turned it into a source of food.
That is as it should be: Laws should prioritise human needs and interests and not of other creatures because animals should live for human beings and not vice versa.
The country’s laws should make it a crime to kill or maim a protected wild animal or bird or reptile within the bounds of a conservancy or game park, but certainly not when it is in a residential or agricultural or business area. If a python is in a residential area or where human beings are carrying out whatever activity, it should be legal to kill it, the same fate should befall an elephant, a rhino, a leopard, a buffalo or whatever else.
We have heard or read about people being killed or maimed by some of those wild animals in surroundings where they (animals) were not supposed to be. Local and national authorities need to look at this matter in detail because of the number of resettlement centres being established in the country.
To be guided by an international protocol or by similar resolutions on matters of local environmental conservation is unrealistic in as much as what obtains in some of the DRC’s equatorial jungles is completely different from what we need in the lacustrine shores of Rwanda, or the rolling plains of the Canadian prairies.
In Zimbabwe, we have herds and herds of elephants that eat large quantities of whatever they can guzzle. They are natural agents of deforestation, fearless and fierce enemies of villagers, and farmers and vegetable gardeners. Does it make much sense for the State to promote their increase?
We should not forget that the majority of Zimbabwe’s population lives in the rural areas in some of whose localities some elephants roam. Meanwhile, most of the country’s law-makers live in urban or peri-urban centres, where some people have never seen a live wild elephant! Some of these MPs pass laws that are irrelevant to their respective constituencies.
They may not be aware that the fundamental difference between human beings and beasts, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects is that people are inventive, innovative and adaptive as compared to being merely adaptive.
Creatures of the wilderness live by instincts as opposed to intellect which is what guides human beings lives. We plan for the future, beasts, birds and other non-human beings do not. Legislation that protects national or private game conservancies should have two aspects: the punitive and the compensatory.
The offender should be punished for having broken the law, and must also be required to make good the loss to the owner of the game or whatever is being protected by the law. Should the conservancy be state property or be under state security, compensation should be legally due to whomever whose property, or body, or security has be damaged or devoured by an animal, reptile, bird or insect that has strayed away from conservancy’s connes.
The quantum of the compensation should be arrived at by the very same formula or formulae used when the State were the offended or complainant. If that were done, villagers whose crops are eaten by elephants, or livestock by lions or leopards from game reserves would not feel unfairly treated by the State, and those responsible for the security of State conservancies would take their work much more seriously than is presently the case.
MPs have a duty to either amend or enact relevant legislation to meet the current socioeconomic and cultural needs and practices. They should appreciate the fact that during the Rhodesian regime, a python was more important to the State than a black person, so was a guinea fowl.
Today, pythons are a terrible menace to some peasants and farmers, especially those who keep poultry and small livestock such as sheep and goats. Similarly, guinea fowls cause a great deal of havoc to crops, particularly maize. A goat-rearing peasant at, say, Jambezi, would find it certainly strange to be arrested for ensnaring a leopard or cheetah. The law that criminalises the killing of those wild hunting cats whose well known preys are goats and sheep, is not in harmony with Zimbabwe’s culturo-economic traditions and practices. It is also against the very aims and objectives of the country’s poverty-alleviating policy.
Laws that protect livestock-killing wild animals such as leopards and lions may be good for countries where there are no poor livestock-keeping peasants, but certainly not for Zimbabwe. No! Our MPs need to look critically at those laws with a view of replacing them with laws that can benefit most of the people most of the time and at most localities or constituencies. The calibre of Zimbabwe’s MPs ought to be a priority prerequisite during elections.
We need MPs who can think originally, express their opinion articulately, and diligently implement their development projects. Areas such as Jambezi should be by now a centre of much economic development and an example of how agriculture can effectively transform community standards of living, raising it several rungs up the economic prosperity ladder.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. [email protected]