Stemming human and wildlife conflict

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ELEPHANTS, lions, rhinos, pythons and other wild animals and reptiles are an exhilarating sight for tourists on a four-by-four truck, but they can be terrifying for unarmed women and children walking through thick riverine vegetation to fetch water or firewood.
While many a tourist has been thrilled by wildlife, many of those who co-exist with the animals have been injured and killed by them.
Spine-chilling reports of hapless humans being tossed in the air and crushed by giant elephants and buffaloes or others cut in half by hippos while some have had their limbs chewed off by crocodiles are disturbing and call for some corrective measures by relevant wildlife authorities.
Although there are no major reasons given for these dangerous conflicts, wildlife conservationists say wild animals, especially elephants and hippos, are killing people because these people have invaded or settled in their territories and migratory routes.
Wild animals tend to peg territories or follow certain migratory routes for a number of years. If their space is invaded, they have no choice but to get confrontational in order to regain or defend the invaded territories.
They even fight among themselves.
Conservationists also observed that successive droughts over the years also left the animal’s watering points dry and hence the animals roam out of the parks in search of water in villages.
The raging veld fires that destroyed vast tracts of land in conservation and other protected areas have also heightened the conflicts as animals are left without pastures and raid people’s fields.
Villagers also regard these wild animals as vermin that kill livestock or raid their crops and have resorted to snaring and spearing the animals, resulting in the dangerous confrontation that has led to loss of human life.
The conflicts are high during the cropping and dry seasons when people guard their crops or go to the rivers for fishing.
As human population increases, conflict between communities and animals has escalated, especially with conservation rules being broken.
Although methods such as ‘chilli bombs’ to scare away elephants from fields have been tried, they have yielded little results as the animals quickly get used to the tricks and return to raid the fields.
Several other methods such as fencing the fields, to deployment of game rangers, have been tried but are not being effective.
However, communities living in wildlife corridors such as Binga, Shashe in Beitbridge and Gonarezhou have over the years co-existed with these wild animals without any problems as they respect the way these animals live.
According to the people in these communities, harmonious relations with the animals has ensured there is no conflict.
For instance, they said during the fruiting season, wild animals also benefit from the free gifts of nature as humans are not allowed to over harvest fruits and force the wild animals to become confrontational.
Studies by wildlife experts indicate that conflicts occur when animals and humans begin to compete for wild fruits.
Traditionally, forest guards were assigned by chiefs and headmen to ensure that certain wild fruit trees were reserved for wild animals while hunting was also confined to the subsistence killing of old and male animals for consumption.
Elders said with the high demand for forest products and medicines, people are no longer leaving wild fruits for animals hence the increasing number of conflicts.
Communities have also warned that the challenge facing tourism ventures and conservationists is not only to reconcile wildlife conservation priorities with the needs and aspirations of communities, but link them with economic and social development.
They said wild animals co-exist with humans if their territories are not invaded. For instance, snakes such as pythons can stay near people as long as they are not hungry, while animals such as lions, leopards and hyenas would prefer quiet and serene environments.
The fact that humans keep dogs, one of the enemies of the cat family, has resulted in serious conflicts between these wild cats and man.
Traditionally, dogs were usually kept away from areas where there are lions or leopards or even pythons.
According to environmental specialist Claudia Sobrevila, ways to reduce conflict include:
Chilli pepper plant fences: Chilli pepper plants surrounding the plants were used to deter elephants, because elephants do not like their smell or taste. An added advantage is that people can also sell chilli peppers for additional income. Another version of the Chilli pepper fence is to hang up a cloth infused with chilli paste around to perimeter of the crops.
Burning chilli pepper bricks: The burning of chilli pepper bricks, with the help of the wind, sends the strong smell of chilli peppers in the direction of elephants and discourages them from coming closer, even from a long distance. These bricks are formed with elephant dung, chilli pepper seeds and grease, so that they burn longer. They have proven to be very effective.
Bee fences: Bees are used to deter the Elephants from coming near crops or homesteads.
Early maturing seeds: Seeds planted and harvested fast enough to reap a benefit before the migration of animals such as elephants is also an effective way to minimise conflict.
Alternative livelihoods in tourism sector: Training of young adults to work in the wildlife tourism industry, so that they rely more on the preservation of these animals to earn an income, creating more positive attitudes among humans towards wildlife.

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