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The community has their say on human wildlife conflict...

David Youldon


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This month's issue includes...

- A report back on ALERT's recent discussions with Gorongosa NP in Mozambique
- Work has finally started on building the first release area in the Dambwa Forest with the full support of the Government of the Republic of Zambia and the local communities surrounding the Forest
- Elephants return to Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
- ALERT UK patron finally conquers Everest on his third attempt
- The latest exploits of the cubs in stage one
- Satellite images are provided to Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority to assist in the study on Sable
- An update on our proposed release prides
- URGENT APPEAL - Wild dogs in Livingstone
- Ground hornbill study
- ALERT's research team grows stronger
- Biological monitoring in Victoria Falls National Park
- A report on community meetings to tackle human wildlife conflict in Victoria Falls
- Zimbabwean Ministry of Environment and Tourism offer land for release areas in Zimbabwe

Human Wildlife Conflict

The value put on wildlife by those not living with it every day is very different to that perceived by most communities in Africa. This fact was brought into sharp focus when, during a public meeting held at Monde Primary School in a rural village outside Victoria Falls to discuss the human wildlife conflict issues faced by these communities, the solution suggested by the people to the daily challenge of protecting crops and livestock was simple – kill the wildlife – all of it. Elephants were seen as the overriding problem with predators such as leopard, hyena and lion coming in a close second. Baboon and buffalo came under fire – not even the lowly spring hare was spared the wrath of villagers and were also deemed to be targets for a mass slaughter.

When most people talk about habitat protection they talk in terms of legal protection – laws forbidding communities access to areas where wildlife lives and from utilising the resources of the land on which their ancestors have subsisted for centuries.

Wildlife is perceived by local communities as having negative economic value, either through loss of life, livestock and crops or through the loss of income-generating opportunities restricted by protection of the habitat that wildlife needs to survive. Legal protection may have questionable value when it concerns a species that comes into conflict with people, often in remote areas with poor infrastructure. Under such circumstances, according to the IUCN, legal protection may serve only to alienate people from conservation activities. So what hope?

ALERT believes that any solution that fails to tackle the root problems of human wildlife conflict will, in the long run, be ineffective. Only through cultural change in a greatly expanding human population that is putting unprecedented pressure on land can a new perception of the value of wildlife be forthcoming – one that accepts that not only does the presence of wildlife in an area ensure that the natural resources on which the community relies will remain available to them and their children, that socio-economic benefits can be derived from the wildlife but also through implementing conflict mitigation measures. Acceptance by communities that they must learn how to live with wildlife is the only long term solution, but this notion is the polar opposite of the view currently held by communities.

Other cultural barriers to success also exist. Individuals who have taken up the challenge and have seen the proposed systems working; reaping for them economic benefits and reduced conflict with wildlife have kept hidden their success lest their neighbours discover the secret. And communities that have become reliant on hand-outs from NGOs for no work on their own part are suggesting workable solutions to their problems but choosing not to implement them as it means they will have to do the work.

We are under no illusion that to succeed in creating real grass roots developed protection of wildlife is an enormous challenge.

On 28th May ALERT and the Africa Centre for Holistic Management facilitated a community meeting to which some 200 people attended representing affected communities and their headmen and village chief, the Rural and City Councils, Campfire, the local Member of Parliament, the Hwange Lion Research Project and tourist operators Shearwater and Lion Encounter.

The meeting aimed to hear communities’ views about the problems of wildlife conflict and to build support for a participatory approach to finding solutions.

It was clear from the start that there was great animosity towards all organizations involved in wildlife management and conservation for putting the needs of the animals before the needs of people and for not passing on any of the benefits of wildlife to the community.

In open discussions the following were suggested by villagers as being some of the root causes of the conflict;
• Community areas were easy sources of food for wildlife;
• There are more animals than their used to be;
• Population growth pushing into wildlife areas to produce sufficient food and gathering of other resources;
• Authorities too slow to respond to reports of problem animals; and
• People do not know how to defend themselves, their homes, livestock and crops.

ACHMs founder Allan Savory spoke saying that to kill all the wildlife would destroy Zimbabwe’s largest industry with obvious repercussions both nationally and locally. He said that the majority of people within Zimbabwe, a democratic country, would vote to support wildlife and therefore the tourist industry based upon it; as such the culling solution proposed by the vast majority of people in these communities would never get approved, but equally would not solve the broader problems facing them.

Allan asked people to consider the question “what would you do in order to increase human wildlife conflict?”

- Use large fields with low yield crops;
- Leave those fields unprotected;
- Allow livestock to roam freely whilst grazing;
- Have livestock cared for by inexperienced people;
- Keep animals in many small kraals;
- Burn the grass in the wildlife areas removing much of the food wildlife needs;
- Allow the land to deteriorate through poor land management practices draining rivers of water and forcing communities to spread their fields and grazing practices into wildlife areas to maintain the same low yields.

In fact everything that we are currently doing now!

Allan admitted that he used to believe that culling the animals and burning the grass was the best management tool and in one year whilst working on an area in Zambia in 1955 he shot 200 elephants whilst protecting crops. When he opened them up he made a discovery – their stomachs were full of grass. So, in 1956 he told the landowner that he would protect his crops by shooting problem elephants but that the protection would cease if any fires were burned in the grasslands surrounding the farm. That year only two elephants had to be shot.

In the previous three days before the meeting fires had been lit all around the land surrounding the villages. He asked – now that the food had gone where are the animals going to go for food?

He suggested that the underlying problem is the deterioration of land and water sources through the land management practices of both the authorities and local communities. What we need are more animals, both wild and domestic – and less burning.

At ACHM’s own ranch in the heart of the conflict zone they have dramatically increased the amount of livestock but managed the land in a new way. As a result the river runs when it used to dry up, the crops produce a greater yield from smaller more manageable fields and no livestock have been taken by predators.

Allan concluded by saying that we need to all work together to produce constructive solutions for ourselves – to work out what methods are the most effective and to find ways of making the methods that ACHM has already put in place more cost efficient and therefore viable for communities to practice themselves.

It was difficult to tell how much the community accepted that there is another way to deal with the conflict that they are facing other than killing all the animals, but they were certainly listening intently and ALERT and ACHM were thanked by all present for starting the process of dealing with the problems.

ALERT and ACHM will now produce a joint report from the meeting in order to highlight several steps on how this project could proceed from here. This will be presented to all stakeholders in order to agree priorities and strategies to affect a long term solution.


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