Zimbabwe: Human-Wildlife Conflicts Deepen


By Jeffrey Gogo, Columnist, The Hera

Date Published

Twenty seven people were killed by wild animals across Zimbabwe during the first quarter of 2015, as human-wildlife conflicts run deeper. Fifteen sustained injuries at varying degrees.

At least 12 of the endangered African elephant, 5 lions and 14 hippos were killed in retaliatory defence, according to figures obtained from the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of Zimbabwe.

The African elephant, lion and hippo appear on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of animals at risk of extinction, needing greater protection. .

African lions and hippos are listed as “vulnerable,” one of the least endangered categories, and the African elephant “endangered,” a recent study by the IUCN shows.

Southern Africa has reported greater success in lion conservation compared to West Africa whose lions are categorised “critically endangered” due to prey decline, says the IUCN.

Interestingly, of the 86 recorded cases of elephant attacks on humans in Zimbabwe, only one of those was fatal. Lions killed mostly cattle and goats, a combined 118 in total, robbing people of crucial draught power.

The real human hunter was the crocodile, which mauled down 22 people. Only 10 crocodiles were killed. Hippos killed more people than meat-eating lions or hyenas, with four hacked to death.

However, with 66 cases of lion attacks on humans or human settlements reported in just three months, that number is notoriously high.

It is likely the dangerous cats continue to roam free in some areas, risking not only human lives, but their own, too.

During the review period, humans conflicted with a wide range of wildlife including baboons, hyenas, leopard, buffalo and bush pig. In total, the Parks and Wildlife Authority reported 335 cases of human-wildlife encounters.

Many conflicts go unreported, but the highest number of those reported occurred in southern and western Zimbabwe, home to the country’s largest game reserves, the Hwange National Park and the Gonarezhou National Park.

Habitat loss

Loss of habitats, such as clearance of forests for farmland, fishing, population increase, vandalism of game reserve perimeter fence, are the main causes of the rise in human-wildlife conflicts, said Caroline Washaya-Moyo, spokesperson, Parks and Wildlife Authority.

“The growing human population has resulted in increased demand for land resulting in human encroachment in game parks, forests, and other ecosystems,” Washaya-Moyo said, by email. “A big number of people are attacked by either hippos or crocodiles during fishing in rivers and dams. Crocodiles tend to inhabit areas that are not heavily fished and minimum disturbance from human beings. People tend to fish with half their bodies immersed in the water to make quick catches thereby risking their lives, others are attacked while bathing. The other reason is people crossing flooded rivers.”

Zimbabwe’s population has expanded 62 percent from around 8 million 35 years ago to 13 million at the last count in 2012.

With this growth, demand for land has also risen, squeezing wildlife off their natural habitat.

However, Zimbabwe is one of the nearly 200 governments that four years ago committed to curbing extinction of known animal and plant species by 2020 and protecting those under threat or whose populations are in rapid decline, like the rhino.

A report by the IUCN last month said no animal had gone extinct in 2015, but many were in serious danger. With limits in funding, habitat loss and a rise in poaching, achieving the 2020 goal remains a tall order. The loss of species results in biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, diminishing the quality of human lives and basic economic security, experts say.

By saving species people save biodiversity and the ecosystems that provide the natural resources needed to survive.

Now, the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority says it is intensifying campaigns on awareness and capacity building, hoping that will improve relations between humans and wildlife.

Through CAMPFIRE, a programme that encourages community participation in conservation, the Wildlife Authority believes harmony can be achieved, particularly in view of the associated financial benefits.

“Government granted some Rural District Councils appropriated status to manage and sustainably utilise wildlife in the areas for the benefit of the people living with the animals,” said Washaya-Moyo.

“In some cases, land owners are given a management quota which allows the property owner to hunt thereby managing or reducing wildlife numbers on their properties.”

The Authority had also started building wire boundaries for those reserves where conflicts could potentially erupt while some of its stations were being built in strategic locations to allow for efficient response.

Wildlife conservation remains a tough cookie in Zimbabwe, complicated by rampant poaching of endangered game and weak funding from central Government.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa cut spending for environment, water and climate by 44 percent to $52,7 million this year from $93,5 million a year ago.

Spending for the Parks and Wildlife Authority was put at just $3,8 million, barely moving from a year earlier.

Nearly half-year million dollars of that amount was expected to buy vehicles to boost anti-poaching response.

By comparison, some $500 000 is needed each year to quench the great thirst of 43 000 elephants at Hwange National Park alone, Mr Geoffreys Matipano, conservation director at Parks and Wildlife Authority of Zimbabwe told Bloomberg in December.

Zimbabwe boasts an elephant herd of 80 000.

However, community involvement could yield wins for both conservation and livelihoods. Now, here is one practical way of minimising human-wildlife conflicts effectively.

God is faithful.