Battle for land & water in wildlife-rich areas
At a time most countries are grasping at straws to save their wildlife, Zimbabwe is facing a different concern.
Very few species are on the brink of extinction in Zimbabwe, which is home to 350 species of mammals, more than 500 birds, and 131 fish species.
Zimbabwe’s conservation fairytale has had an unintended consequence: increased cases of human-wildlife conflict.
At least 50 people have lost their lives in the past eight months while more than 40 have been left permanently injured after encounters with animals.
Elephants - whose numbers Zimbabwe say exceed the National carrying capacity - account for 50 percent of the deaths.
According to the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), Hwange National Park - the biggest home for elephants in the country- there are 55,000 of the giants against a carrying capacity of 15,000.
ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo said the huge animal numbers and competition for land and water meant human-wildlife conflict was inevitable.
“The animals are not only a danger to humans, but their habitat as well. Apart from water shortages, there is over population, which can only be addressed by translocating the animals but the process requires a lot of money, which we do not have at the moment,” said Farawo.
After elephants, crocodiles account for 40 percent of human-wildlife conflict deaths, while lions and buffaloes are responsible for the majority of the remainder.
The increased number of these deaths has prompted the state to start working out a model to compensate victims.
Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu has said, “We don’t have a clear policy on compensation, which is what has been topical even in parliament. But we are saying maybe let’s have a compensation fund or what we can call a Relief Fund where we prioritise human losses whereby the family is assisted with burial and other expenses.”
The plan is expected to have input from the farming communities, so that the final structure of the fund reflects their realities.
“A portion of the fund will be coming from hunting fees. We want to have a percentage going there. We will also see if Treasury could avail additional resources.
“So, it is still a long way to go however, we believe from the national outcry we need to do something,” said Minister Ndlovu.
There has also been talk of erecting boundary fences in buffer areas.
Some activists believe increased human activity in wildlife-rich areas could be behind the conflict.
For instance, the In Centre for Natural Resources Governance has said: “Generally, mining close to animal habitats pollutes the air, water and foliage, and obstruct animal corridors. Noise from mines mask acoustic signals that animals rely on and, in doing so, hindering inter- and intraspecific communication among animals.
“Coal dumps result in perennial fires that have burnt and agitated animals in and around Hwange. In response, many animals change their behaviour in an attempt to overcome the signal and cue-masking effects of the noisy environments. Wounded animals are always dangerous.
The group said mining activities close to conservancies disturbed animal habitats and some wildlife could be moving away from mines and closer to residential areas in search of peace.
The number of deaths caused by human-wildlife conflict in 2020 have already surpassed the 2019 numbers.
In 2019, 30 people died in 300 incidents while there have been 50 deaths in the first eight months of 2020.
Calls have been made for more sustainable solutions to be formulated in dealing with the issue, like relocating people living in high-risk areas or erecting boundary fences.
At east authorities have finally started revisiting this issue.
But until action is seen on the ground, animals will continue killing people, and communities will continue retaliating.