Zim’s dilemma over deadly elephant attacks

Local News
deadly elephant attacks

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) spokesperson Farawo had the grim task of delivering the mutilated body of a 30-year-old farmer who had been trampled to death by an elephant in northern Zimbabwe to his distraught family.

It is something that ZimParks rangers have to do all too frequently as they police a battle between humans and encroaching wildlife. The farmer from Mbire district was one of 46 people killed by wild animals in Zimbabwe this year.

Hwange National Park, the country's large nature reserve spanning 14 600 sq km, has the capacity to sustain 15 000 elephants. Yet officials say the population there now stands at around 55 000, with many straying into surrounding areas in search of food and water.

And the jumbos are greedy — a single elephant consumes up to 200 litres of water a day and around 400kg of tree leaves and bark — causing great distress to already impoverished subsistence farmers.

As delegates from more than 180 countries gather in Panama for the two-week meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), Farawo believes that communities who live on this frontline are being ignored.

“You cannot always come up with solutions in air-conditioned buildings,” the Zimparks spokesperson told the BBC.

Zimbabwe has proposed to Cites that certain provisions that restrict the trade of raw ivory and elephant leather be relaxed, arguing that the money raised from their sale could support conservation of the growing elephant population.

If those mulling the proposal have never been to Hwange, how can they understand the plight of communities there, Mr Farawo asks.

‘We don't want aid’

In May, Zimbabwe convened an African Elephant Summit but failed to unite countries on the continent to fight the ban on the global ivory trade, issued under Cites in 1989.

Only Zambia, Namibia and Botswana backed-up Zimbabwe's push for permission ton sell off its ivory stockpiles, mostly from elephants that had died from natural causes and which would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The same countries also support trophy hunting as a way to finance community projects for those who live close to game parks.

“We don't want aid, we want the chance to trade so that we can fund our programmes,” Mr Farawo said.

But Kenya, which opposes both hunting and the sale of ivory, did not attend the summit.

The east African country symbolically burnt its ivory stockpile confiscated from poachers and illegal traders in 2016.

While Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Mali and Senegal proposed to Cites that the elephants in southern Africa be upgraded to give them “threatened-with-extinction status”, further restricting any trade.

Jim Nyamu, who heads the Kenya-based Elephant Neighbours Centre, argues that lifting the trade in ivory in southern Africa would impact east Africa, where elephant numbers remain a concern.

He points to Cites' decision to allow a one-off ivory sale from Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to Japan and China in 1997 and 2008, saying it led to an increase in poaching.

“No country should be encouraged to work in isolation,” the anti-poaching campaigner told the BBC.

Mr Nyamu believes in alternatives like eco-tourism, which have the potential to bring in more money to communities than hunting.

Wild animals in towns

But there is little support for this on the ground in Botswana, which controversially resumed trophy hunting in 2019 as a way to reduce its burgeoning 130 000-strong elephant population.

In Botswana's Chobe district, which borders Zimbabwe, elephants outnumber the population of 28 000 people. Like Hwange, the area's national park is unfenced.

Chieftainess Rebecca Banika, a Chobe traditional leader, told the BBC that her community received US$560 000 from hunting proceeds last year, along with the meat of dead tuskers.

“We are suffering but even though we are angry, we don't fight the animals because we derive some benefit from them,” she said.

Frank Limbo (64), a retired banker and now a farmer, says sightings of wild animals were rare during his youth but now they are all over the town of Kasane.

They wander into backyards and several of his relatives have been either killed or maimed and entire food harvests destroyed overnight.

He is also the unlikely survivor of two terrifying wildlife attacks.

In 2004 a lioness was chasing down his pet dog on his farm, when it turned on him — luckily for him an armed friend shot her dead.

Eleven years later, while preparing his fields for planting, a herd of elephants wandered past. Moments later three returned and charged him.

“They all came making those the noises they do when they attack — wailing — and I too yelled and wailed.“

He was saved by running behind a tree: “They couldn't reach me but one gorged me from my knee to my upper thigh. I was certain I was dead.”

Some conservationists in southern Africa also question the figures on which decisions about elephants are made.

 To this end, the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza TFCA), which spans reserves in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, organised a joint aerial elephant census in August — the figures of that will be released next year.

It followed a decision last year by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which keeps a "red list" of threatened species, to list the African savanna elephants as endangered.

It cited population decline — a 95% fall over the last century as a result of poaching, shrinking habitats and a growing human population.

Netsai Bollmann from Kaza TFCA says the data used was based on estimates.

The elephant census initiative shows that countries in southern Africa, where elephant populations is growing, and need more sovereignty in determining what happens to their wildlife.

Zimbabwe has just approved plans to set up a fund to help people attacked by wildlife.

Edson Gandiwa — a wildlife researcher who works at ZimParks — says the problem with the elephant conservation debate is it is emotionally charged.

“They are a keystone or flagship species. It's not only about the elephants, it's about biodiversity. We need all animals to be there,” he told the BBC.

Mr Limbo agrees, saying the 2,5 million people who live near Kaza TFCA wildlife areas deserve to be consulted by international groups before global policies are implemented.



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