Tackling wildlife-human conflict
WILDLIFE conservation is under threat from poachers whose activities have become sophisticated over the years. Illegal hunting which has killed hundreds of elephants through cyanide poisoning and species such as kudus, buffaloes and impalas through snares continues to threaten wildlife survival.
Some villagers in communities surrounding game parks use wire snares to catch animals for the pot and in the process catch even the ones they don’t eat.
Sometimes, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) and other partners such the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust (VFWT) are left to rehabilitate injured animals that would have been lucky to escape or be freed by rangers.
A two-year-old lion is being rehabilitated at Mtshibi Camp in the Hwange National Park, near the Main Camp after it was caught by a snare in the Tsholotsho area.
Luckily, the baby lion was saved, ZimParks spokesperson Ms Caroline Washaya-Moyo said during a visit to the site recently.
“Rangers saved the baby lion from a wire snare. It injured its left shoulder, fortunately, the rangers bumped into it soon enough, sedated the lion and brought it here for rehabilitation,” said Ms WashayaMoyo.
ZimParks ecologists said the cat will be kept at the camp until it is old enough to defend and fend for itself so it can survive in the wild.
The cub will be kept at the park because no one knows its pride and releasing it will result in it being eaten by other lions.
What villagers and poachers do not know is that animals like the two year-old cub are the kind that would become a nuisance around communities as they would not be part of any pride.
They feel safer while near people, but this trend causes human-wildlife conflict.
Armed poachers are a thorn in the flesh as they have on numerous occasions been involved in shootouts with anti-poaching police units and rangers.
In January, two Zambians were killed while eight others fled.
Last month, five others encounter with rangers.
Despite a donation of vehicles and equipment worth $2 million from China, ZimParks still needs funds to acquire more equipment such as bikes, protective clothing and other equipment so as to monitor wildlife movement as well as keep an eye on poachers in the game reserves.
The Government received an unspecified number of drones from a South African company last week, a boost to the country’s anti-poaching activities.
The VFWT also recently received a timely donation of $25 000 from Ford Motors for protection of wildlife in Matabeleland North Province.
“This is meant to deal with a lot of issues such as wildlife-human conflict,” said Duly’s Motor Company fled after a shootout Harare operations manager, Mr Bill Cornish.
The VFWT carries out educational programmes through which children from surrounding schools are taken through wildlife conservation training on co-existence between humans and animals.
Accepting the donation, VFWT board chairman Mr Bruno de Leo, said it would go a long way in protecting wildlife and educating communities through the trust’s schools education programme currently underway.
“We now have 15 annual projects for the community and all are dependent on availability of funding. One of them is training sessions for school children who are brought here on Fridays.
“This education is crucial to create conservation awareness and the grant from the Ford Motor Company will make it possible for us to reach a lot more children,” said Mr de Leo.
The education programme hosts between 800 and 1 000 children weekly throughout the year. They are transported to the facility and given an opportunity to interact with elephants, cheetah and white-back vultures.
“For many kids, it would be their first time to see these animals outside of a conflict situation. They get to understand the benefits of wildlife in the area, the importance of conservation for tourism and the dependence on wildlife for many occupants.
“We’re grateful for this donation as we seek to promote conservation of natural resources through research and empowerment of communities in Southern Africa,” said Mr de Leo.
He challenged conservationists to treat with importance both wildlife conservation and communal benefits for people living within or around game parks.
VFWT was formed in 2008 by a group of conservationists as a non-profit organisation to preserve wildlife and conduct rescue and rehabilitation activities.
It strives to advance and promote environmental conservation in Southern Africa through hands-on wildlife research, management of a wildlife veterinary diagnostic laboratory and rehabilitation facility, education and empowerment of local people in the sustainable utilisation of indigenous resources through active involvement in conservation training and community outreach programmes.
ZimParks Zambezi Camp area manager Mr Edmore Ngosi said wildlife is a generational heritage that everyone must protect.
“It’s up to us to look after these resources for future generations. We need to work together on this so that we fight poaching activities.
Such a donation will have an impact not only in Zimbabwe but in all Kaza region countries. It is our wish that in future, such initiatives spread to all countries so that we fight the vice of poaching across the region,” said Mr Ngosi.
In order to deal with human-wildlife conflict, VFWT has a conflict hotline, assisting rural communities to find ways to mitigate challenges — particularly in the peak season from December to April, when carnivores attack livestock and elephants raid rural village gardens and crops.
Just like ZimParks, VFWT operates a rescue and rehabilitation facility to care for injured and orphaned animals, especially those that survive poaching.
The animals are released back into the wild but where it’s not possible, they are kept in safe captivity and are used for educational and tourism purposes.
People from Monde, Jambezi, Lupinyu and Matetsi are some of the worst affected by the humananimal conflict as they have lost livestock and crops to predators that have also killed people.
Elephants have in the past caused havoc in Victoria Falls town as they would invade suburbs and destroy property such as water taps, meters, tuck shops, gardens and fruit trees.
The same applies to communities in Mabale, Dete and Tsholotsho. Experts say poaching is largely driven by demand in Asia and is now at its highest levels in 20 years.
In 2015 alone, 1 175 rhinos were poached in South Africa while hundreds of elephants died in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe rhinos have been moved to protected sanctuaries while ZimParks has begun moving elephants to Chizarira National Park to minimise loss through drought and poaching.
In the past, anti-poaching activities were efficient because there was enough funding.
There is a need for consented efforts by various units such as VFWT, Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU), police, rangers and others to fight poaching.
Anti-poaching interventions should start with educating communities on the importance of wildlife to human life and the economy.
VFWT staff members showing the cheque they received from Dulys