Parks & Wildlife
IN a recent tragic incident of human-wildlife conflict, 87-year-old Tendayi Chabveyo Maseka of Chirumhanzu was mauled to death by a pack of hyenas that invaded his home in the dead of the night, before dragging him outside where he met his fate.
The predators later went on a killing spree, accounting for dozens of goats and calves in the area, before being gunned down by Zimparks rangers.
Sixty people have been killed by wild animals this year, marking a sharp increase in the number of fatalities from the 36 recorded last year.
In addition, 50 people were injured with some now permanently disabled following violent confrontations with marauding wild animals in human settlements.
This year, Zimparks has handled more than 1 500 distress calls from communities who had been terrorised by rogue wild animals in their areas.
Last year, we had only 311 such calls and 195 in 2018.
Sharing borders with wildlife conservancies can be a blessing and a curse at the same time.
All things being equal this should be a blessing.
However, for the majority of people in living in Hwange, Bikita, Guruve, Chipinge — areas that are close to wildlife conservancies — sharing these borders is slowly becoming a curse because of the increasing encroachment of wildlife into human communities.
Cases of human wildlife conflict are increasing owing to climate change, an increase in demand for agricultural land and the increasing animal population.
In Botswana, for example, a community living adjacent to the Chobe National Park has been forced to permanently stop all agricultural activities because their crops were being destroyed by elephants every year.
Peaceful coexistence between animals and humans is therefore at breaking point in most of such communities.
This problem could be addressed through interventions, which have local communities and leaders at the centre.
If these communities were to benefit from wildlife that inhabit conservancy areas bordering their areas, they would have little problem coexisting with the wildlife.
Instead, these communities that have been at the receiving end of wildlife encroachment into their areas, are left on the peripheries of decision making when it comes to dealing with wildlife management.
They have lost loved ones, crops and have had their homes destroyed.
How then can we make this coexistence work?
Through the community-based natural resources management programme, CAMPFIRE, communities have been able to benefit from and live at peace with wildlife.
At its peak, over 1 million villagers were benefiting from this programme.
We need such interventions that create value in wildlife and empower communities, through community tourism, job creation and ultimately provision of social services.
This in turn will make the task of nurturing harmony between wildlife and human communities easier.
These communities must be made to view these animals as economic opportunities.
They are key stakeholders in wildlife management and must be never be ignored.
We have, however, a situation where locals are sidelined when critical decisions on wildlife management are made.
This why we are always advocating for the involvement of local communities in decision-making.
These are the people who bear the brunt of sharing boundaries with wildlife, yet wildlife management is handled by people, who in some cases have no first-hand experience of coexisting with animals.
Furthermore, the fight against poaching and illegal wildlife trade will become self-sustaining if we involve communities.
Zimbabwe has adopted the policy of involving locals in protecting and managing these resources to ensure that they are not excluded from decision making and the benefits that accrue from sustainable wildlife conservation.
Traditionally, locals have enjoyed trivial benefits that include menial jobs as trackers, rangers and cooks and the occasional donation of game meat.
But there is a need to nurture greater involvement and more substantial benefits for the local communities.
This is why over the years we have advocated for localised wildlife management committees which will represent communities at high-level fora.
The ongoing formulation of a stand-alone human wildlife conflict policy is one such initiative to create a functional framework that involves communities in the management of these resources for their benefit.
Research has shown that a broad-based community involvement strategy is crucial in natural resource management, the fight against poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
Needless to say, such a strategy should also broaden and strengthen community livelihoods programmes to reduce their involvement in illegal harvesting of wildlife.
Community empowerment will not only address structural inequality and poverty, but will slow wildlife crime and poaching.
Through this approach, local communities will become the guardians of wildlife and conservation.
Tinashe Farawo is the head of communications at Zimparks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org