By Sithembelenkosini Moyo
My name is Sithembelenkosini Moyo; I am a forester by profession and currently working for FAO the sub regional office of Southern Africa as a Junior Technical Officer. One of the things that motivated me to work for FAO was the need to gain knowledge on how to address the challenge of human and wildlife conflict in my community. Working for FAO has presented me with an opportunity to learn strategies that I can implement in my community.
Having been born and raised in a communal area adjacent to the Gwampa forest in Nkayi district, Matabeleland North and spending part of my life in Hwange district in the same province of Zimbabwe, I have had real life experience of what human and wildlife conflicts entails because the Matabeleland North province of Zimbabwe houses a number of wildlife conservation areas.
Since my childhood my family has always practiced farming as a business. We grow sorghum, maize and ground nuts and also we have an orchard near our homestead. We keep chickens for both our own consumption and for the market and we also practice beekeeping. We also keep goats and sheep. We farm all year round through irrigation. .
Our biggest challenge in all this is the wildlife in the area..
Our maize is a target from the time we sow the seed because crested francolins make follow ups and dig them out line by line. Our response to this over the years has been blanking in with new seeds, using dogs to scare them away and ting traps using hooks. When we however manage to guard the crops to maturity baboons silently come down from the forest area and harvest the green mealies. We have killed so many baboons in trying to protect our crops but unfortunately at one time, it did not end well for all of us. In this particular incident, we managed to kill three huge male baboons using heavy duty traps but when one of our workers went to check if they were all dead, one of them managed to escape and attacked him badly breaking his left collar bone and ripping his stomach open and ending his life at that instant. . Such is the extent to which human and wildlife conflict can get to in our area.
Baboons are not the only wildlife species we have to contend with in these areas. During the cropping season elephants also come into the fields almost on a daily basis and trample down the maize and sorghum fields, destroying crops and threatening human life as well. Villagers with smaller plots can have their entire fields destroyed in one elephant invasion Our plight is such that we plough but we don’t harvest as much as we would if we didn’t have the challenge of these animals. We have crafted ways of chasing the elephants from the fields by beating drums and cracking whips but eventually the elephants become resistant to these methods
The fruits from the orchard hardly get to maturity stage before birds start feeding on them. We cannot harvest or store the fruits as they would not be ready for human consumption. Recently we also realised that some of our trees were drying up because of termites. Who would think that such small creatures could give us such headaches but yes, they contribute to our low yields every year.
We have since given up on bee keeping because we encountered problems with honey badgers where they would come and suck the honey out of our hives and sometimes carry the small hives into the forest.
Right at the homestead we face challenges with the poultry project because the presence of the chickens invites snakes into our compound. The worst part is that sometimes snakes just suck the blood and leave the birds dead. During one bad night we lost a dozen birds which is a major loss if one is in the poultry business. We have tried traditional methods of keeping the snakes away by planting snake repellent plants around our homestead but could it be that the snakes just as the elephants and the baboons have become resistant to these methods because they just don’t work anymore.
The worst cases are when we have to deal with the dangerous animals, the lions, hyenas, leopards, and other predators that attack our livestock. The scary part is that sometimes these animals go inside the kraal and kill our livestock. That is how near our homestead these animals can get and no one would risk risk their life trying to scare them off. We can only wait till morning to see how much damage they have done to our livelihoods.
Given all these challenges, we have to dedicate a lot of time devising ways to address the challenges. Children spend most of their time in the fields scaring away birds and baboons instead of going to school or reading.
During weekends people spend the whole day in the fields, they are on guard against these wild animals round the clock. The community has a schedule where children monitor the movement of the animals and guard the fields In the afternoon while adults take their turn in the evening and sometimes during the night.
We really do not understand what these animals want from us. Do we have to keep chickens in doors or grow maize in the bed room? Honestly, these animals are threatening our very existence. We are increasingly getting frustrated. I lost my job, my father, my income and now my crops. Enough is enough; if nothing is done we will poison all these animals because we deserve a chance to live in peace. The worst thing is that there is no compensation for locals who have lost their crops to animals but when when we poach just one animal we are arrested and we can be imprisoned. The damage caused by these animals now far outweighs the benefits arising from the animal resource and so we feel there is no incentive for preserving them. This scenario has left the villagers torn between preserving nature and retaliating.
Apart from this, we still face other challenges like droughts, climate change which affect our livelihoods. When farming is your only source of income, the wildlife problem becomes a constant headache. Besides farming, there is not much of a choice for rural communities’ livelihoods and so the community is in dire need for solution. It will really be good for the authorities that be to come up with strategies that will ensure the survival of both animals and people.
This article is taken from Sithembelenkosini Moyo’s presentation at the World Forestry Congress 2015 Human and Wildlife Conflict Forum. Edited for EcoForum Africa by Violet Makoto.