Human-wildlife conflict: Urgent solution needed

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MORE people have been killed by wild animals than those killed by COVID-19 in Zimbabwe. From January to date, more than five reported cases of human-wildlife conflict deaths have occurred.

Last year alone, more than 30 people died in 300 animal attacks.

Human and wildlife conflict refers to any human and wildlife interaction which results in negative effects on human, social, economic or cultural life, on wildlife conservation or on the environment.

Conflicts include carnivores attacking and killing livestock and humans, herbivores raiding crops and resource competition.

Dangerous animals

There are six animal species that are classified as dangerous animals in Zimbabwe. These animals are listed in the ninth schedule of the Parks and Wildlife Act. These are buffaloes, elephants, hippos, leopards, lions and rhinoceros.

On January 28, 2020 NewsDay reported that a herd of buffaloes had terrorised and attacked villagers in Hurungwe West constituency. A minor child was reportedly killed and two women were injured.

Just two weeks ago, TellZim also reported that a stray buffalo had killed a 72-year-old man in Zaka.

Early this year, a pride of lions reportedly killed 35 cattle, several goats and donkeys in Victoria Falls.

On March 3, 2020, a National Railways of Zimbabwe employee was mauled to death by lions in Hwange.

The same month, another man was knocked off his motor bike and killed by lions in Nyaminyami district.

There were five documented cases of people who were killed by elephants in Kariba last year. In a more disturbing incident that occurred early this year, a Mkhosana resident was allegedly trampled to death by elephants. His body was discovered in the bush a week after he had gone missing.

A Bulawayo man was attacked by a leopard while harvesting mopane worms in January this year.

The case drew social media debate after the man and his brother were arrested for killing the dangerous animal. In February this year, a woman was attacked by a hippopotamus while canoeing in Zambezi River. Although crocodiles are not among the list of dangerous animals, their attacks on humans are prevalent in Zimbabwe. The majority of the cases are unreported due to remoteness of some areas. Two 11-year-olds in Binga and Kariba were killed in November last year.

Problem animals

The Parks and Wildlife Act classifies three animal species as problem animals.

They are classified as such because they are problematic. Baboons, spotted hyenas and jackals are the problem animals.

The wild or hunting dog used to be on this list until it was removed and transferred to the list of “specially protected animals” on March 20, 2020 through Statutory Instrument 71 of 2020.

Hyenas are known to wreak havoc and terrorise villagers in many rural areas in Zimbabwe. They usually prey on calves and goats.

In 2018, a six-year-old boy was viciously killed by a hyena in Buhera. In another sad case that occurred in September last year, a two-year-old child was mauled to death by a pack of hyenas in Kanyemba.

Baboons are a menace to tourists and residents. They are thieves by nature. They mostly terrorise women and children. While town baboons often break vehicle windscreens, house roofs, doors and windows to pilfer food, rural baboons usually go for crops, chickens and goats.

Main causes of human wildlife conflict (HWC)

Resource competition between growing human populations and wildlife is a major cause of HWC.

Humans end up encroaching into game reserves thereby increasing human-wildlife interactions.

Illegal fishing has been identified as a key cause of hippo and crocodile attacks on humans.

Illegal hunting for food reduces prey populations thereby forcing predators to turn on livestock.

Vandalism of game reserve perimeter fences, unsatisfactory response by the responsible authorities and growth in animal population also contribute to the rise in HWCs.

On elephant population in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) reported that the elephant population has exceeded 80 000 against a carrying capacity of 50 000.

Possible solutions

Sustainable wildlife management is the key to HWC.

This entails the effective management of wildlife species to sustain their populations and habitat over time, taking into consideration the socio-economic needs of human populations.

Retaliation killing is an emotional and not a sustainable solution. Some of the animals that have been killed in retaliation in Zimbabwe are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of animals at the risk of extinction.

Public awareness, education programmes about wildlife and involving communities in the related planning and management of wildlife can lead to changed attitudes with an increased appreciation of wildlife and tolerance of wildlife damage.

Commendable is the government’s Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (initiative which was designed to stimulate sustainable community use of natural resources.

Such initiatives, however, ought to be well managed to ensure payment of compensation is done in the event of losses resulting from HWCs.

Responsible authorities ought to erect sustainable fences around all game reserves and national parks. Vandalised fences should timeously be repaired.

Livestock husbandry practices such as herding during the day, avoiding predator’s home ranges and keeping livestock in predator-proof enclosures at night protects livestock from prowling animals.

Government should, where necessary, do wildlife translocation. This is the movement of animals from a problematic or overpopulated zone to a new site.

Last year, ZimParks commendably announced that 600 elephants, two prides of lions, 50 buffaloes among other animals were to be transferred from the Save Valley Conservancy to less-congested parks.

Zimbabwe and other countries have been repeatedly but unsuccessfully calling upon the regulator of global wildlife trade, Cites to uplift the ban on international trade in ivory.

Commendable is Parliament’s recent proposal to use birth control pills as a way of curbing the rising population of elephants in Zimbabwe.

If no serious practical efforts are made to address HWC in Zimbabwe, precious human lives and livestock will continue to be lost at disturbingly high rates.

Citizens and tourists will continue being trampled and injured by elephants and other prowling animals. Government must be seen condemning retaliation killing of wildlife.

Those who suffer HWC losses ought to be compensated. Sustainable wildlife management is the strategic solution to human-wildlife conflicts.

 Fidelicy Nyamukondiwa is a legal columnist. They write here in their personal capacities.