Sanctions, CITES and human wildlife conflict in Zimbabwe


Vincent Gono, The Chronicle via Africa in News 

Date Published
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Zimbabwean communities that are sitting side by side with wildlife conservation areas have for a number of years been living in constant conflict with the animals.

Nocturnal visits by the animals of the wild results in deaths of livestock.

Dawn and afternoon visits are quite often too and, in some cases, lead to loss of human life as the fight for space is getting intense with a sharp growth in population on both sides not reciprocated by growth in the habitat.

This has been exacerbated by the fact that Zimbabwe is not getting funding for development of trans-frontier conservation areas due to sanctions, neither is it allowed to trade some of its animals such as elephants without conditions under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The ensuing human-wildlife conflicts that have been confirmed by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority have seen a number of animals either poisoned or killed as the animals of the wild stray into areas of human habitation causing destruction of crops and even loss of human life and livestock.

Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu said in an interview that he was aware of the human-wildlife conflicts in areas juxtaposing animal areas.

He said the extension of areas of influence for animals particularly elephants under the trans-frontier conservation areas (TFCAs) were being affected by sanctions imposed on the country by the US and the EU.

TFCAs are defined as a component of a large ecological region that straddles the boundaries of two or more countries encompassing one or more protected areas as well as multiple resource use areas.

Unfortunately, Zimbabwe has not been getting the financial support to develop its side of these transboundary ecological areas from international institutions that are into conservation because of sanctions.

“It’s one area that has been greatly affected by these sanctions, firstly these sanctions have been giving adverse travelling warnings to Zimbabwe which affects directly the number of people visiting the country. In the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Trans-frontier Conservation Area, four other countries (Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia) have been receiving support in the tourism industry for the past five years, Zimbabwe only got assistance last year but again the quantum is not reflective of the need that is there to develop the area,” said Minister Ndlovu.

He said the tourism sector needs constant development but that had not been the case with Zimbabwe as sanctions made it impossible to access lines of credit and foreign direct investment to channel towards developing tourist products.

“You need to continuously embrace new ideas that tourists are keen to experience and we are unable to do that because investment in the sector is limited. These sanctions are evil, they are unjustified and they are illegal, they just have to go. I implore those that believe there is anything they can achieve with sanctions to consider the people who are suffering, the jobs that could have been created and the potential revenue that could have come into this country,” he said.

The country, he said, has outdone itself in conservation with the little resources at its disposal.

“We have the second largest elephant population in the world after Botswana and we have been doing very well. We are seeing heightened human-wildlife conflict and it’s caused by lack of funds to develop our side of conservation areas. We are being penalised for doing so well and it’s just not fair,” he said.

He added that the lack of funding in the KAZA that encompasses Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe led to minimal development in Hwange National Park resulting in more human-wildlife conflicts while the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Conservation Area that has South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe has also led to the slow pace in developing Gonarezhou National Park thereby affecting communities.

With revelations that more than 70 percent of people in rural Zimbabwe rely on agriculture, a number of villages in Tsholotsho, Hwange, Chiredzi and other districts that play host to animal sanctuaries tell sad tales of begging for food as their crops are always at the mercy of wild animals.

In Tsholotsho, Hwange and Chiredzi the villagers’ food inadequacy is caused by their proximity to the country’s largest animal sanctuaries — Hwange National Park and Gonarezhou in Chiredzi where the country is grappling with the continued swelling elephant population.

At a population of 100 000, the elephants are almost doubling the country’s carrying capacity of 55 000 and they often visit the villages in numbers of 50 to 60 leaving undesirable evidence of their unpleasant stopover in villages such as Sibambene, Sithembile, Mpilo and Pelandaba in Tsholotsho while wrecking havoc in Chief Tsovani’s and headman Mpapa’s communities that are close to Gonarezhou National Park in Chiredzi.

Acting Tsholotsho District Development Co-ordinator Mr Aaron Gono said a number of wards in the district were affected.

He said wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 and 10 were the most affected and have been having very early problems of food shortages because their crops were always at the mercy of the wild animals especially the jumbos.

“We have had this problem for a number of years now but it is heightening because the elephants are increasing in number every year resulting in the fight for space with human beings as they push to extend their sphere of influence outside the parameters of the Zimparks confinement,” said Mr Gono.

Villagers, he added, have learnt to live with it although they were comforted by the swift response from the authorities when they raise the alarm on invasion by the unwelcome jungle visitors.

He said there was however, no compensation whatsoever from anyone including Campfire for the affected villagers.

“The sad, ugly thing is that most villagers have their fields destroyed and their animals such as goats, cattle and donkeys preyed on by the wild animals are not compensated. There is competition for water between elephants, people and livestock and in some cases, there are human life losses and injuries.

The elephants have become so many that they have seriously affected areas that they wouldn’t normally reach. As it is, we are grappling with a serious shortage of food. Everyone in the district wants food.

There is drought but our situation is worsened by the elephants. They destroy gardens, increasing people’s vulnerability. There is also destruction of rangelands and the general ecosystem,” he added.

He recommended that there should be compensation to those that would have incurred losses, which facility is not in place currently.

Mr Gono said there should also be continuous community engagement on the use of indigenous knowledge systems in problem animal control.

Chief Tsovani of Chiredzi said in an interview that they have similar unwelcome visitors from the jungle in their communities as well where crops have been destroyed.

He singled out elephants as most problematic saying they were the ones whose population outnumbers other animals and whose level of environmental destruction was second to none.

“When communities are close to animal areas an abrasive relationship tends to happen. We have been having a problem with elephants because they are the ones whose number is constantly growing although this is not to say some other animals like lions and hyenas are at peace with us. We are thankful to Zimparks for erecting an electric fence, such incidents have been greatly minimised but some patches still report destruction and sometimes human life loss. Such has been a part of our life and it’s no longer surprising,” said Chief Tsovani.

An official with Chiredzi Rural District Council said the district was an extensive agriculture and animal area and there was a lot of interference with each other.

“There has been massive crop destruction by animals, chief among them elephants that travel in groups.

There has been reports of lions, hyenas and jackals attacking livestock in villages as well and in some cases human beings although rarely,” he said.

Communities in Matetsi and Victoria Falls also have the same sad story to tell of their encounters and abrasive relationship with the wild animals that are fighting for space and resources with humans as sanctions takes their toll on the country’s economic sectors.