The Sunday Mail
Fatima Bulla Musakwa
LASTING solutions that involve empowerment of local communities are urgently required to end escalating human-wildlife conflicts, which have claimed more than 60 people in Zimbabwe since the beginning of 2021.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) recently revealed that over the past two months the situation has taken a turn for the worse, with a life being lost after almost every two days.
Contributing factors, such as competition for space and resources, as well as poverty among people living in wildlife-rich communities, continue to escalate the conflicts.
Cattle, goats and donkeys have been lost, while crops and close to 7 000 hectares of land have been damaged over the last three years, says ZimParks head of corporate communications, Mr Tinashe Farawo.
“About five people have lost their lives while taking photos of animals, trying to get as close as possible to the species, but as long as it’s not comfortable, it creates problems.
“And most times humans are always at the receiving end of the fatalities,” he said at a training workshop hosted by African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) recently.
Conservationists continue to point to exclusion of local communities in managing wildlife as one of the reasons the conflict will continue.
The Poverty Atlas Zimbabwe provides evidence that communities, which experience the highest poverty, are those in wildlife-rich areas.
“You are looking at a poverty-stricken household, and the only nearest asset that is available for them to have access to food is through poaching.
“And you find if that has not been addressed then we need to forget this issue around conservation.
“The success of conservation again rests with these communities, because they live with the animals on a day-to-day basis,” said Dr Colleen Matema, who has worked extensively in poverty and resilience building studies at the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Environmental Studies.
One of the programmes that has been touted as ideal in empowering communities, is the community-based natural resources management program.
The program involves putting aside a piece of land for wildlife conservation, which will be leased out to private operators who are into Safari hunting.
From that arrangement, proceeds of hunting are shared between the safari operator, local authority and the community.
“So, the basis of community-based natural resources management was on the fact that if we put the governance structures correctly, and there are good incentives or significant incentives then the expectation is that we have revenue generation, which then culminates in improved conservation.
“Devolution under this program has not been made complete, we don’t have much mileage in terms of having moved the powers to use to local communities,” added Dr Matema.
While legislation in the pre-independence era alienated local communities from managing wildlife resources, there seems to be a turning of the tide even among the large international conventions to recognise the role of indigenous people in local communities.
The voices of these local communities to engage in resource management are becoming prominent at forums like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the recently-held COP 26 for Climate Change.
Senior director at AWP, Mr Alistair Pole, said the fact that an estimated 80 percent of wildlife remaining on the planet is on rural communities’ land proves that indigenous people have become the best custodians of wildlife on the planet.
Yet they do not have a voice on much of the conservation agenda.
“It is only when there is a co-existence of people and wildlife that we are going to achieve the success that we all want, which is a thriving wildlife in Africa,” Mr Pole said.
Another challenge in getting resources to the communities is how Zimbabwe remains hamstrung by CITES.
Restrictions in ivory trade have meant that the country’s elephant population continues to grow and encroaching human spaces.
There is also the issue of an ever-increasing stock of ivory, which in itself costs Government a lot of money to protect.
AWF country director, Ms Olivia Mufute, said the divisions that remain among African countries when voting on trade at the convention, has left the European Union bloc with an upper hand in decision-making at the expense of the continent.
“As Southern Africa we are united. Unfortunately, Southern Africa fights with the rest of Africa when we go to the COP, there is no one voice. As we go to the next COP in Panama, as Africa Wildlife Foundation, we do not want that division in the meeting room.
“When Europe speaks, they say ‘us as the 21-member state European block vote for this position’. Us as 54 countries we never speak like that,” Ms Mufute said.