BY STEVE EPHRAEM
ZIMBABWES south-eastern region has a very rich wildlife base. It boasts of a variety of both plants and wild animals (flora and fauna). That is why it is home to some world peace parks projects which see national parks of more than one country being merged into one great territory commonly known as Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA).
The region has Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Conservation Area and Chimanimani Trans-Frontier Conservation Area.
Great Limpopo merges Kruger National Park of South Africa, Limpopo National Park of Mozambique and Zimbabwes Gonarezhou National Park. Chimanimani TFCA consists of Chimanimani national parks of Zimbabwe and of Mozambique.
In addition to the previous mentioned two TFCAs, the region boasts of Save Valley Conservancy, which is dubbed the worlds biggest conservation area.
Many Trans-Frontier Conservation Areas in the region are blessed with wildlife that ranges from those categorised as the Big Five to those classified as the Small Five. The Big Five animals consist of the African elephant, leopard, African buffalo, rhinoceros and lion.
Outcry erupts when humans come in contact with the Big Five game as well as others like hippopotamuses, crocodiles, painted hunting dogs and hyenas. This brings us to the question: What really is Human-Wildlife Conflict?
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) describes Human-Wildlife Conflict as any interaction between humans and wildlife that results in negative impacts on human social, economic or cultural life, on the conservation of wildlife populations, or on the environment.
The conflict is usually triggered by many factors which include the following:
The change in climatic pattern has serious caused Human-Wildlife Conflict. Due to climate change, natural occurrences as El Nino induced droughts do occur. Such severe droughts reduce the availability of animal food. Wildlife end up seeking alternative food sources like such as humans, crops and livestock.
People increase in numbers due to population explosion. They obviously clear new land for building homes and growing crops. Massive land clearance destroys land that might have been initially reserved for grazing or animal habitat.
Such settlements usually expand without professional planning leading to lack of basic infrastructure such as water supply, roads and energy sources. To acquire water, people flock natural dams and rivers where they conflict with crocodiles and hippopotamuses.
For fuel and timber, migrants harvest wood from available forests or woodlots. There a conflict ensures between people and game like hyenas, lions and leopards. These animals want enough forest cover since they are naturally secretive and do not want exposure.
Another cause for the conflict is the attitude that was developed by communities in the 1960s when the then colonial government moved people from their traditional homes to establish wildlife protected areas like wildlife sanctuaries, wildlife reserves and safari areas.
The moving away of natives from their original settlements by the government as well as making the wildlife inaccessible to the communities led to a feeling that the authorities had robbed them of their much needed resources.
Those who trespassed into the wildlife reserves were punished in courts of law by paying heavy fines or even serving prison terms. In extreme cases, some even lost their lives. Frustrated, communities failed to appreciate the value and benefits of managing wildlife under nature reserves.
To the communities, wildlife was seen as government property rather than natives’. People thus moved from the custom of respecting wildlife and would poach game using snares and poison. They would rather protect livestock than wildlife.
Wildlife population is ever increasing while the habitat is non-expanding. Elephants and buffaloes tend to invade human settlements destroying building structures and crops. Hyenas, lions, painted hunting dogs and crocodiles kill livestock especially when they compete at water points and grazing areas. They may also kill people.
When communities continue losing human life, property and long-term investments like cattle, goats and crops, people end up retaliating. Wildlife authorities in Southern Africa do not have clear policies on compensation, thus adding salt to injury.