Local environment charity organisation, Environment Africa, three
weeks ago began leading a campaign to raise $50 000 to help build a
solar-powered electric fence around the Victoria Falls dumpsite.
Driven into action by the death of eight elephants that ate too much
plastic from the dump, the fund raising has progressed at a snail’s
pace amid growing concerns several herds have developed a habit of
scavenging for food at the dump at night, risking death.
A team of conservationists from Environment Africa, Zimbabwe Parks and
Wildlife Authority, and others that visited the dumpsite around 1930
hours on March 21 told The Herald Business they saw about nine
elephants foraging there.
The conservationists suspect that more and more elephants — an
endangered species that also is a strategic economic resource for
Zimbabwe, a huge tourism drawcard — make their way to the dump
through the night, daily.
Last week I engaged Environment Africa chief executive, Charlene
Hewat, to discuss the electric fence project, the existential
human-wildlife conflicts and other wildlife conservation issues. Below
is an excerpt of the discussion. I am represented JG and Mrs Hewat,
JG: What is the update on your fund raising for the Victoria Falls
dumpsite electric fence project? How much pledges (or actual cash)
have you received to date? How soon were you planning to build the
CH: The fundraising is slow but we have $2 000 cash and $6 000 in
pledges. We are planning to start the fence this month and the fencing
company, Barrett Electrics, has said we can do this in phases, which
is great news. It would be great to get more people to donate.
JG: With eight elephants already dead from plastic consumption this
year, there are fears the situation might actually be worse than
previously thought. What factors are driving such fears?
CH: The other night we saw nine elephant at the dumpsite and they were
all eating waste. So sad to see. The fear is that many more are going
to die all because of our waste.
JG: Others, like the Victoria Falls Municipality, have dismissed as
false reports of elephants dying from eating too much plastic at the
city’s dump. Instead, they have gone on to accuse charities like the
Environment Africa of sensationalising the issue. How do you respond
to such allegations?
CH: I was surprised to hear that (because) the very people from the
Victoria Falls Municipality are the ones we are working with. I had a
meeting with the mayor on March 22 and brought him up to speed and
invited him to come and see the site and the elephants.
Sadly, there are people who do not understand what is happening on the
ground as the elephants come during the night. What all of us need to
understand is that Victoria Falls is a town that falls within the
National Parks and a World Heritage Site. It is, therefore, incumbent
on all of us to take care of the environment no matter who.
Environment Africa has never sensationalised issues and, sadly, I
think it is just some people within council who do not know what is
going on. If I sensationalised issues then why did I ride a bicycle
from the UK to Zimbabwe to help Save our Rhino some years back? We are
still to this day losing rhino and my belief is that the elephant is
the next target. Who knows if our children’s children will ever see a
rhino in the wild?
JG: In view of this emerging trend in the death of elephants, how can
wildlife conservation considerations be integrated into economic and
environmental policies to reflect the monetary and non-monetary value
of wildlife to further conservation of the same?
CH: Let’s just take tourism in Zimbabwe, (for instance). At the recent
ITB Berlin Convention, Zimbabwe was awarded the best adventure
destination. We have amazing wildlife and environment areas that the
world would like to come and visit, and, therefore if we follow the
vision of our Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi, an amazing visionary for
our country, economic growth through tourism, then we can make it.
Tourism contributes significantly to the Zimbabwe GDP and we will not
be in a position to continue this growth if we do not protect the very
thing that brings in the money. We need to keep and protect our
wildlife and there are ways that the community can benefit from this.
It is up to all of us to seek ways and implement them.
JG: How can protected area networks in the Victoria Falls be designed
to increase the safety of wildlife, particularly, elephants, and to
minimise the existing ungodly interaction between animals and the
excesses of human civilisation?
CH: Human wildlife conflict is a reality. We humans have invaded their
space and they are now suffering to find their way. (Yet), we both
need to adapt, animals and people. We need to look at ways that we can
work, live and survive in harmony with nature.
So, the electric fence is not ideal but it is the way forward as this
will help keep the animals out of the waste we humans create.
Environment Africa, through the Victoria Falls Green Fund, has
launched a Keep It Clean Victoria Falls campaign in partnership with
the Town Council.
We have youth groups working with the local councillors on the ground
and have launched under this the Vic Falls recycling programme, which
is going to be run by the youth. We have been getting support from
retailers, hotels, business and the local community.
The youth started collecting plastic on March 22 and just in one day
and at the very start of the project they had collected 60kg. This is
a start and it also contributes to stopping plastic going to the
dumpsite and being eaten by the elephant and dying.
The Vic Falls recycling project, however, needs help. Where is Delta
Corporation? They came to the Victoria Falls some time back and to
date have not done much. We need their support and it is our hope that
they will support the youth programme with some start-up funding and a
JG: What kind of information is required to enable the responsible
authorities, both ZimParks and the Vic Falls municipality, to decide
when and how to manage the wildlife that stray into the city to avoid
animal deaths as we have seen from the dumpsite?
CH: It is not about information, it is about proper planning and
management and this is what we are trying to do together with ZimParks
and the Vic Falls Municipality.
The dumpsite is being looked at and (is being) turned into a proper
landfill site. Hopefully, the Environmental Management Agency are
going to come forward with some funds for this.
The Environmental Impact Assessment has been completed and there is a
plan now in place which is exciting. The Vic Falls Municipality is
keen to see things happen and sometimes it lacks the funding to do the
work it needs to do and this is where we come in as partners and find
JG: The incidents that have killed eight elephants in Vic Falls show
the kind of inherent negative impact that human economic development
could exert on biodiversity. In order that we avoid committing
ourselves to a future of reactive emergency responses like with the
electric fence, how can authorities, the civil society and the public
work together to deliver efficient responses?
CH: I do believe we are doing just this. The electric fence will go up
but still there is need to reduce our waste going to the landfill and
that is why Vic Falls Recycling project has started.
The Keep It Clean Victoria Falls Charters for Business, for
organisations and homesteads is to be launched this month. So, the
private sector, public sector and communities are forming partnerships
known as PPCs as we move forward together and aim for Victoria Falls
becoming Africa’s Green Destination.
Together we can make a difference and I have seen the steps being
taken here on the ground and am encouraged that in a year’s time we
will look back and say, we have done it together.
God is faithful.