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Conflict between elephants, humans escalates in Zimbabwe | Environment

Conflict between elephants, humans escalates in Zimbabwe | Environment

A woman in a shade used to guard against elephants at night in the fields in Siyalwindi, Zimbabwe

Hwange, ZimbabweFlora Mangwana was so worried about her crops not being able to survive another night in the fields while she slept indoors for months. Today, the 40-year-old farmer sleeps in a temporary hut outside her Siyalwindi home, in northwestern Zimbabwe.

Herds of elephants from Hwange National Park have been destroying her family plot for more than a dozen consecutive years. They eat the maize before it reaches maturity, and this has been going on for over a dozen years.

Mwangana, Mwangana’s family breadwinner, has often had to search for other food sources to feed her six-member family. She is concerned about a repeat of this situation ahead of harvest in April.

She said that the elephants are coming to our fields in large quantities and we will not harvest much this year because of them. We don’t harvest as much every year because of the elephants. This year, there was very little rainfall. Elephants are still a problem and ruining our fields.

The Hwange National ParkThis is the largest wildlife sanctuary in the country of southern Africa. It was made a game reserve in 1928. It covers more than 14,600 km and is located in the Kalahari Desert’s eastern part. This low-rainfall area is home to more 100 mammal species and 400 bird species.

The animals are more likely to fight each other during dry seasons because of the increased competition for food and water. Some of these animals, including the elephants have been wandering into residential areas in the park for years. The invasion has caused loss of crops and affected lives all over the country.

Things have become worse since the elephant population in the park grew over the years to more that 50,000, well beyond its holding capacity at 10,000, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management told the BBC.

According to ZimParks in 2020, there were more that 50 injuries and 60 deaths from growing conflict between wildlife and humans. Website. This was an increase of over fifty percent compared to the previous year.

Villagers drive their livestock into the park in search of water holes and good pastures. Thomas Tshuma, 47 years old, is a cattle rancher who has seen elephants while tending to his animals in the game park.

Tshuma stated that every time we go into the game to tend our livestock, the elephants harass us. We have to find better pastures for our animals as the grazing land is now scarce.

The villagers have formed watch groups to keep the elephants away from their crops. They use primitive weapons and bonfires to scare them away. The watchmen begin to beat metal tins loudly in an attempt to scare the animals when they come out of the park.

Experts also agree that human activity is a part of the problem.

Shamiso Mutare-based environmental charity Environmental Buddies Zimbabwe’s executive director said that land use changes and continual human encroachment within protected areas are the major causes of Human-Wildlife Conflict. Both sides will likely suffer.

Hwange has witnessed a rise in land use, leading to the expansion of local communities.

Before conflicts began, there was a fence that divided the park and community. Ndlelende Ncube who founded Elephant Friendly Farms, stated that the fence was removed and that the elephants now have access the community farmlands. Tikobane Trust, a Hwange-based conservation volunteer group. The increase in population has led to the occupation of buffer areas, sometimes measuring a kilometre in width, which has caused conflicts in 27 villages.

A woman in a shade used to guard against elephants at night in the fields in Siyalwindi, Zimbabwe
A woman in a shade was used to protect against elephants at night in Siyalwindi’s fields, Zimbabwe. [Credit: Derick Matsengarwodzi/Al Jazeera]

Survival of the fittest

Poor rainfall means that the current farming season will not produce a lot of fruit. poor harvestEven though the elephants continue to launch raids. The villagers are increasing crop protection and claiming that farming as the primary source of income in Siyalwindi has been threatened.

Mangwana stated that we don’t go to bed at night in our homes, but that we are awake trying to stop the elephants from coming for our little crops.

Others have taken to trapping wild animals to sell their parts or to eat them as meat.

ZimParksAccording to Tinashe Farawo (a spokesperson for ZimParks), the government that manages the country’s national parks said it is trying create a balance between wildlife and people. Both the animal population and the human population are growing.

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Farawo said that communities with borders to parks should stop raising cattle in parks as their livestock is at high risk of contracting disease and being attacked.

Mupara claims that previous studies in South Africa’s Kruger National Park to test repellents for elephants have shown that beehive fencing, chili bombs, and elephant repellents are effective in keeping them away.

Tikobane Trust tested an animal repellent it had made last year with the help from local advocacy groups in one village. The main ingredients were cowdung, water, and garlic. Ndlelende stated that it was a success and was capable of repelling elephants 200 meters away.

Community volunteers packing elephant repellent in used plastic bottles in Zimbabwe
Volunteers from the community pack elephant repellent in plastic bottles in Siyalwindi (Zimbabwe) [Credit: Derick Matsengarwodzi/ Al Jazeera]

It seems that there are concerted efforts to reduce poaching by providing skills training and entrepreneurship education to communities near parks in order to help them participate in the tourism value-chain.

Farawo stated that the villagers are receiving Communal Areas Management for Indigenous Resources, (CAMPFIRE), a government program to support community-led development. Officials from government say the funds will be used for development purposes like building schools, clinics, and roads.

Some farmers feel that the constant losses incurred from animals trampling their crops are taking a toll on their livelihoods and they do not see any direct benefits from CAMPFIRE funds. Mangawana and Ncube, community members, said that their neighbors appointed to the committees don’t know how it works as they are not involved in the project.

Ncube said that communities get a small portion of the proceeds when ZimParks shoots a rowdy elephant. According to Ncube, Dete was another affected area that received less than $100 in last year’s payout.

Mangwana, who has been fighting the elephants for years, is losing patience and prefers quick solutions to his problems.

She stated that the elephants should be removed. We are losing, and we are under a lot stress because we don’t sleep at night. The CAMPFIRE program is only being administered by a few people.

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