In the wee hours of June 16 this year, 23-year-old Zviito Bhachi from Komba area in Mbire district, Mashonaland Central province, woke up to the crushing sounds of a herd of elephants going through maize fields.
Bhachi confronted the herd which comprised 10 elephants as he attempted to salvage a maize crop that survived Cyclone Ana which hit the area early in the year.
However, one elephant charged at the young man whose efforts to evade the bullish animal were in vain after it caught up and killed him instantly.
Narrating the incident, Zviito’s brother, Zondiwa, said the elephant chased the young man for about 200 metres before trampling him to death.
“He was guarding his maize field along the Angwa riverbanks against wild animals and when the herd of elephants approached the maize field, he tried to chase them from the fields.
“One of the bulls charged at him and despite trying to dodge the bull, it caught up with him and trampled him to death,” he said.
Zviito’s death is one of four to be recorded in the district as a result of human-wildlife conflict since the beginning of the year – two by elephants and a similar number by crocodiles.
According to Mbire Rural District Council chief executive officer Claudious Majaya, human-wildlife conflict in the district has become a perennial problem.
“To date, 10 people have been injured by wildlife. One person was gored by a buffalo while the remaining nine were crocodile victims. A total of four people have been killed by wild animals so far this year,” Majaya said.
He said the most problematic animals that attack people in the district are crocodiles, elephants, buffaloes, hippopotamus, foxes and snakes.
Other wild animals including hyenas and lions have also been giving farmers sleepless nights as they target cattle, goats and sheep while elephants, hippos, kudu and antelopes destroy crops.
Majaya said the local authority was, however, training ward-based game scouts to control problem animals.
“The authority through its partners has put in place mitigatory measures to control elephants in crop fields such as use of chillies to deter them, use of bee hives as bio-fences and production of crops that are not favourite to these animals. Sesame and chillies are encouraged because elephants do not feed on them.
“Community sensitisation meetings are held in all wildlife hotspot areas where villagers are advised on animal behaviour and how best to avoid them. Apart from that, the local authority has developed a Land Use Plan for the next 10 years, starting 2020,” Majaya said.
“This land use plan demarcates wildlife habitat areas and corridors from human settlements, crop fields, grazing areas and service centres while wildlife active communities are running a Campfire project where they realise income from sport hunting. Part of the income is used to build schools, roads and clinics,” he added.
He said the council needed financial support to implement the 10-yearMbire Rural District Council chief executive officer Claudious Majaya, developed while also looking at setting up a revolving fund to assist wildlife victims.
Majaya said council also needed funding to establish electrical fences in areas where people live including crop fields and grazing areas so as to minimise human-wildlife contact.
“While we have clinics to attend to victims, they are not enough and not properly equipped. The majority of cases are referred to Chitsungo Mission Hospital. Some will skip the border to Zambia where they receive treatment. There is a need for a district hospital, which will be able to handle some of the complicated cases,” Majaya added.
Zanu PF district co-ordinating committee chairman for Mbire, Takesure Chikwamba said the human-wildlife conflict was a serious threat to livelihoods.
“Crops that were spared by Cyclone Ana have been destroyed by elephants leaving the community facing imminent severe food shortages. There is a need for permanent and sustainable modalities to solve human-wildlife conflict to complement the government’s efforts to ensure food security to all,” Chikwamba said.
Environmentalist Darlington Muzeza said Mbire district was located within the Zimbabwe-Mozambique-Zambia (Zimoza) transfrontier conservation area.
Zimoza covers Zimbabwe (Mana Pools, Chiwore, Monozi, Masoka, Angwa to Chikafa area), Mozambique (Zumbo and Cahora Bassa Basin) and Zambia (Luangwa) conservation areas.
“Animals such as elephants are highly fugitive. From a conservation ecological point of view, the middle Zambezi valley which forms the greater part of Mbire is well conserved and well preserved in terms of wildlife as compared to other countries.
“So it’s common knowledge that over the years and with drastic reduction in poaching incidents, animals have multiplied. Wildlife has multiplied phenomenally,” Muzeza said.
A consortium of investors in Save Valley Conservancy translocated more than 200 elephants to the Zambezi Valley area deploying them in the Victoria Falls area and some parts covering Kariba.
“So you will find that some of these elephants, because of being in a conservancy such as Save Valley Conservancy, are not alarmed by people.
“We are experiencing human insecurities as a consequence of these animals coming and drifting into communities destroying crops, injuring people and at times killing people,” he said.
“However, a new model of conservation must be looked at in the Zambezi Valley particularly in Mbire district because we have some good numbers of wildlife species.”
Muzeza said villagers have not benefited from programmes such as Campfire.
“There are issues to do with a negative perception about the benefit streams but those issues can be attended to. But of immediate attention is to quickly address the risk of continuous loss of lives,” he said.
He also called for the establishment of sound interventions that are practical and participatory while involving all stakeholders.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo said the human-wildlife conflict was not peculiar to Mbire district but across Zimbabwe.
“We are facing a national crisis and that is why we are appealing to the international community to help us unlock the value in our natural resources,” Farawo said.
He said people should avoid confronting wild animals and minimise travelling during the night. Farawo said the government was trying to depopulate areas with high numbers of animals to conserve the environment. Zimbabwe has an elephant population in excess of 100 000 but the country can only accommodate 55 000.