Tack­ling wildlife-hu­man con­flict

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/opinion - Fea­ture Leonard Ncube

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

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