By Sijabuliso NdlovuAs someone who goes to Victoria Falls very often, it is now normal to see elephants and warthogsÂ in the town centre. I had an interestingÂ experience at one time whenÂ i left my hotel room windowÂ open and went to bath.
When I came back, a monkey was helping himself to my food.
However, our recent experience where we found a female lion in the middle of the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway was one we never forget.
Although we were in the car, fear could not be completely eliminated.
Never mind what happened later, but imagine those that have to experience this more often from their muddy huts in remote villages. Not a single person would dare move out to scare away the King of the Jungle. Obviously, it will do as it wishes, and the poor villager will have to pick up bits and pieces of his goat or calves the next morning. Sadly, the poor villagers have nothing they can use to scare the lions away. Guns are too expensive for the poor villagers and besides, they are not allowed in these areas.
We cannot even talk of dogs because they will attract more vicious animals to the villages. Then what next? The rain season comes and it is time to plough. There is no money to buy inputs. Government rolls out a programme to assist farmers with seed and fertiliser, but by the time they receive them, it is almost too late but at least they would have gotten something. Better late than never, they always say. Hard work begins and soon crops reach maturity stage. Every farmer can almost count his bags of maize now. But alas! A herd of elephants totalling 30 find their way into one of the fields and in just one night, they ravage the whole crop. A fully grown elephant consumes an average of 300 kilogrammes of food per day – so you can imagine what is left of this field if one herd has 30 of them.
Many more herds become more and more regular but unwanted visitors. These are some of the challenges that communities in Matabeleland North and other provinces with an abundance of wildlife have to live with. Reports are made to the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and villagers are told to report to Hwange Rural District Council, the responsible authorities of the area. Poor villagers have to find their way to the RDC as an extra expense. Help cannot be guaranteed and the chances of game rangers coming to assist are 50/50. In some cases they have responded swiftly, in some cases they have not responded at all.
Our news crew rushes to cover that story and villagers speak out their emotions. In response, government officials say there is Camp Fire. But what is Campfire to a villager who recently counted 100 elephants and helplessly watched them feast on his crop in Hwange? What is Campfire to a woman whose husband, the breadwinner has been killed by an elephant? What is Campfire to a village where 16 cattle and countless goats are killed by lions between May and June? The villagers have no borehole or schools nearby and have to walk several kilometres to access them. They are patiently hoping that the new Chinese mining companies will drill boreholes or build schools for them under their Corporate Social Responsibility Programme.
With all the natural wealth in this province, is it fair to let the custodians of wildlife become beggars? So where does the Campfire money go? Can anyone call on communities to report cases of poaching and get a favourable response when they do not see the benefits of wildlife?
While it is appreciated that wildlife attracts tourists into the country, the darker side must not be ignored. Zimbabwe has a surface area of 390 000 square kilometres and 49 000 square kilometres of that is under Parks. The national carrying capacity for elephants is 45 000, but Hwange National Park alone has close to 50 000 elephants. The national elephant population is 100 000 – two times more than our national carrying capacity. For maximum conservation, 0,5 elephants requires one square kilometre for grazing purposes. However, we cannot have half an elephant, hence one elephant needs 2 square kilometres for maximum conservation. This means elephants alone require more than half of the country`s land surface.
Obviously, this is not happening because hundreds of species of wildlife have to share that 49 000 square kilometres. Are our Parks not over populated? Is this not the reason why we have more and more cases of human-wildlife conflict? It appears to me that this conflict has become a time bomb waiting to explode. Yes, Zimbabwe is a signatory to important International Conventions such as CITES, but how relevant is this to us as a country if government can only be allowed to trade in ivory once in 9 years? Is this not worse when Kenya proposes that the period be increased to 20 years? How much crop would a villager have lost to elephants in those 9 or 20 years? Can we not conclude that wildlife is over protected at the expense of human life?
Will communities ever appreciate that a lion is worth $75 000 when it feasts on their cattle, goats and donkeys week after week? I recently gathered that lion population is increasing rapidly and estimated to be 450 at Hwange National Park alone. These animals, I believe, have territories. To avoid clashing with their counterparts, lions keep moving to search for new territories and sooner or later, they will be heard roaring in the back yard of your home village. Who will survive? You, your cattle or the King of the Jungle? As my favourite Minister usually puts it, â€œLet us live harmoniously with our wildlife. They are our pride. They are our source of income.â€
But those questions will always come to the fore. Who will ultimately survive? Should humans join the â€˜survival of the fittestâ€™ game plan?
The opinions expressed in this article are the authorâ€™s and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.