The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu in Hwange
A TOTAL of 55 people have died from attacks by wild animals in the country since January with 50 percent of the deaths being attributed to elephant attacks.
This has been exacerbated by the ballooning size of the elephant population particularly in the Hwange National Park with populations now being estimated between 45 000 and 53 000 in the last game count that was carried out at the park.
Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority spokesman Mr Tinashe Farawo said human wildlife conflict was a major problem for communities living near national parks.
“Since the beginning of the year we have lost about 55 lives, of the 55 lives lost about 50 percent are attributed to elephant attacks and this is sad to note. The rest of the deaths are from other animals that we have in the park. We also want people in these areas to benefit from the park and not only lose their lives,” he said.
Mr Farawo said Hwange National Park was overpopulated with the jumbos, a factor contributing to increased human wildlife conflict as animals search for food beyond the park.
“We are battling an over population of this species, against an ecological carrying capacity of around 15 000 we are talking of between 45 000 and 53 000 between Hwange-Matesti block. For years this has been the problem and the threat now is vegetation which is their food and habitat loss for these and other animals in the park,” he said.
A drive around the national park reveals the amount of destruction that the elephants have caused to the vegetation as they search for food. Vast tracks of land where the acacia tree grows which is the favourite of the elephants has been destroyed and brought down. Other animals such as zebras and giraffes also feed on the acacia trees. Mr Farawo said the animals were rapidly losing their habitat.
“The biggest threat to these animals is loss of habitat. They (elephants) are destroying other animal’s habitats such as bird species which can only live and breed in certain tree heights. Elephants have a tendency of knocking down trees as they reach for food and when they do that they affect a lot of other animals in the park,” he said.
Because of these large numbers, he said, the elephants are also encroaching into the neighbouring communities where they kill people, destroy crops as they will be competing for resources. He said the only way to arrest the challenge of the increase of elephants was to depopulate the park.
“We have to reduce the numbers, that is the only way out, so that the vegetation can regenerate and to have animals managing to have food and a habitat at the same time. The more they continue to reproduce, the more there is completion for food within and beyond the park,” he said.
He said the authority last carried out a culling exercise to depopulate the herd in 1988. Mr Farawo, however, said they are encouraging photographic tourism and hunting although this has been disturbed by Covid-19.
“We are hopeful that October will be a better month as more people will be coming and bookings are actually being reactivated that were cancelled earlier,” he said. — NyembezuMu