The Sunday News
AS I traverse our communal lands in various districts of the country especially in the Matabeleland region, I interact with a number of smallholder communal livestock farmers.
These could be in purely communal areas or in the resettlement areas. One of the challenges that they seem to be grappling with in their production system is the issue of loss of their stock to predation. A number of smallholder farmers lament that they are losing a lot of their livestock to predation and they are not getting any help from the relevant departments that deal with such problem animals. Smallholder farmers are losing small stock such as goats and sheep to hyenas and jackals. Hyenas also attack cattle and donkeys.
This predation challenge is usually classified under human-wildlife conflict and conservation zealots and academics are quick to explain the root of the problem as a result of human settlement encroaching into wildlife zones. While this is true for some of the situations it is not applicable to all the areas. There are some purely communal areas with people who settled there in the 1950s and I don’t think such an area can still be viewed as a wildlife zone.
My view is that wildlife authorities such as Zimparks and the local authorities should come up with means of controlling predator animals so as to help minimise losses. I know there are livestock management practices which help minimise losses such as kraaling at night but this is not always possible as some seasons like during the dry season, animals have to be left to forage in far away areas because of scarcity of both forage and drinking water.
Also, some of these predators like hyenas seem to have evolved and they now even attack kraaled animals. On the other hand, wildlife authorities seem to have narrowed the definition of problem animal control to mean only the big five animals.
Any report that does not involve any of the big five animals such as the elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino does not seem to excite them to take action. However, if by some means farmers are able to kill the menacing predator, suddenly the authorities will have both the manpower and resources to get to the most remote places one can imagine!
In fact, one villager somewhere even joked that, if you want authorities to come and attend to the problem predators, just send a false report that there is rampant poaching and they will be there the following morning.
While it is also very understandable that authorities cannot be jumping into their vehicle each time a goat kid is lost to predation, I think there should be levels which warrant intervention.
Are there no predator control measures which wildlife authorities can teach to the livestock farmers so that they can deal with the problem at their level before escalating? I am not talking of the measures that only place the burden on the farmer without driving away the predators as these only make the predators bolder and more daring. Goat producers in some parts of Matabeleland South have been able to train their dogs to provide protection to their goats even when they are grazing and browsing on the rangeland. Is it not possible for this to be replicated in other areas?
What other predator control measures and methods can be promoted so that we safeguard loss of investment by farmers.
In the same way we expend both resources and energy exploring means and ways of preventing poaching and loss of wildlife, shouldn’t wildlife authorities exert themselves more in helping livestock farmers so that they don’t view wildlife with disdain?
I am convinced that with the speed with which technology is evolving, there is probably a technology-based predator control mechanism which we just have not exposed our livestock farmers to.
Let’s help our livestock farmers with practical solutions to prevent livestock loss to predation.
Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected]/cell 0772851275.