Human-Wildlife Conflict Scourge: In Mat North, Predators Escalate Livestock Losses
Predators such as wolves are giving villagers a torrid time. Photo: Wildlife Worldwide
In Matetsi, wild animals are interfering with livestock farming. Villagers say their livelihoods are at risk.
HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — As people and wildlife compete for food and water in Matabeleland North, conflicts are increasing.
In Hwange, the conflict is disrupting cattle rearing efforts for Matetsi villagers, as hungry lions, hyenas, and other predators devour their livestock.
Matetsi, which is located 55 kilometers west of Hwange town, is encircled by Victoria Falls and Hwange National Parks.
The majority of the neighborhood is covered with woodland and the Matetsi safari area.
Because of its proximity to game reserves, Matetsi village acts as a passageway for elephants and a free-range place for other wild species, including the big five.
“Livestock is attacked at any time by other animals including hyenas, leopards, and lions. We raise cattle as a source of livelihood because Matetsi is a cattle-rearing area,” says Stewart Ncube, a village development committee member.
“We raise cattle as a source of livelihood.”
Stewart Ncube, a villager
Ncube says wild animals give them nightmares, cause terror, and jeopardize local wildlife conservation efforts.
“Over the years, we have been accustomed to coexisting with animals, but recently, the loss of our cattle has made this a difficult connection. We always phone the park rangers, but lack of adequate resources sometimes causes a slow response, which is concerning.”
Humans and wildlife are at odds for resources, chiefly water and habitat as a result of unprecedented biodiversity losses and severe climate change effects.
The situation has gotten more dire as a result of the country's failed policies and years of economic collapse.
Human-wildlife conflict, according to Matetsi villagers, needs a long-term solution. Human lives have been lost as a result of the conflict, villagers say.
The Head of Corporate Communications at the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks), Tinashe Farawo, says 2022 was one of the worst years in terms of human wildlife conflict.
“We lost 66 people; the figures continue to be high. Over 400 people have died in combat with wildlife in the past five years, along with tens of thousands of cattle, goats, and donkeys,” Farawo says.
“It implies that the livelihoods of individuals are being impacted,” he adds.
A number of organizations including ZimParks have stepped up their efforts to stop the human wildlife conflict from escalating.
Farawo says ZimParks uses non-lethal techniques to mitigate these incidents as much as possible.
“Over the past five years, we have responded to more than 8,000 of the over 10,000 distress calls we have received. Information has value,” he says.
“In various parts of the country, we have established numerous channels such as WhatsApp groups where local populations may report. We have made an effort to be present in all 8 of our regions in locations where animals are present.”
In December 2016, 42 cattle were killed by a lion pride, leaving villagers counting their losses.
The pride was eventually scared off but the villagers claim that those are only documented incidents as they insist the actual number of livestock losses is much higher.
“ZimParks and Campfire (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) come to our communities to frighten off wolves. However, because we are surrounded by wildlife reserves, we continue to live in fear. Losing livestock means losing income, which impacts our families,” says Champion Sibanda, a cattle farmer.
Poaching and other destructive illicit and extractive practices have resulted in significant forest loss, dwindling megafauna (the big five), failing livelihoods, and high levels of poverty.
It is believed that habitat loss has exacerbated human-wildlife confrontations.
The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT), a wildlife conservation organisation, is implementing a tech-driven intervention to address human-animal conflict in Matetsi and the communal lands north of Chizarira National Park.
The ALERT initiative uses satellite technology to locate stray predators.
“The GPS satellite collars that we have attached to individuals in various herds and prides include a Geofence feature that notifies us when a collared animal approaches the park's border and enters nearby community land,” says ALERT Director of Research Norman Monks, who leads the project.
He adds: “We then warn the local authorities to exercise caution and vigilance.”
Monks says through the initiative, they established movable livestock holding pens (kraals) that are predator-proof, and also trained villagers on how to make traditional kraals more predator-proof.
In addition to that, Monks says they have taught villagers non-lethal techniques to scare away wildlife.
ALERT reports that mobile livestock holding pens have reduced spotted hyena and lion attacks on cattle and goats kept at these facilities. However, in villages where these structures are absent, wild animals continue to attack livestock.
Conservationists believe that if the Matetsi community continues to receive such interventions, farmers in nearby areas will be more willing to co-exist with wild animals.
DanChurchAid Zimbabwe is making similar efforts to help communities at risk along the Zambezi Valley Basin where human-wildlife conflicts are common.
With successful interventions in other areas such as the Zambezi basin and Chizarira, Matetsi is no exception, says Anesu Mupeta, a conservationist.
“It is a matter of time, but coexistence strategies are there. I believe human-wildlife conflicts will be reduced remarkably if villagers remain committed to working with other stakeholders.”
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