Women are turning out to be some of the most vulnerable in communities closest to game reserves, facing greater risk from contact and conflict with wildlife. Women’s vulnerability stems mainly from cases of poverty and at times their marital statuses which make some of them more susceptible to the impact of wildlife attacks and less able to fully recover or access compensation for losses incurred. This process may actually deepen the vulnerability of women whose economic status is already marginal.
In the past women have demonstrated greater concern for the impacts of wildlife conservation and management on their communities but few measures have been taken to date.
The growing wildlife population is now fuelling human –wildlife conflict in parts of Matabeleland North Province namely areas such as Matetsi, Dete , Binga and Jambezi. Concern is mainly high and has been recorded on the human wildlife cases involving elephants , cheetahs ,lions and crocodiles.
According to a source in Matetsi and Binga (Kariyangwe) cases of human and wildlife conflict are growing as lions ,elephants and cheetahs population continues to grow.
Villagers under Chief Shana in Jambezi and Matetsi have lamented that their lives are endangered as well as their livestock and agricultural produce.
“The effects of wildlife conflict reaching beyond direct material loss to include hidden impacts such as persistent worries about food securities, fears for physical safety and lost investment.Our lives are at risk and we do not know what to do now. The chief met with other stakeholders sometime ago (so we heard) concerning our plight but nothing has been done up to present” said Nolwazi Bhebhe a resident.
Nolwazi is a widow. Her husband was killed in 2017 after he tried to rescue their herd of cattle from lions that had invaded their Kraal. Nolwazi recalls with tears in her eyes how she stood helplessly with her children as their father died tragically.
Nolwazi adds, “I am a widow and my children walk 10 km to the nearest school in our area .Everyday I prayer that they come back home safe and alive because this area we live in there are a lot of lions and cheetahs.” She also says looking after her three school going is difficult now because her late husband was the main breadwinner.
“I practise farming but it is pointless because wild animals come and destroy our harvest. I now rely on other Non- governmental organisations who usually come and give us food, said Nolwazi.
Most children miss school twice a week as they fear to encounter the roaming lions on their way to school.
In the past incidents of lions and Hyenas attacking livestock in communal lands used to happen at night but the cats have become so vicious that they now attack even during the day.
According to Zimparks, the Hwange National Park, which is the largest national park in Zimbabwe, has a population of 45 000 elephants and a lion population of over 600, the largest in the world according to Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority.
The Parks area manager concurs that the human wildlife conflict is worsening and becoming more difficult to manage.
Since 2016, more than 15 people were killed while 7 were injured by lions and elephants while 100 cows and 65 goats were lost to lions straying from Hwange National Park.
“I escaped death by a whisker last year in December while me and my siblings were swimming in Gwayi river. I felt something on my leg as I was playing in the water. It was a crocodile. I do not know how I got out of the river but l thank God. Ever since then we are no longer swimming in that river” Thoko Ncube says.
Early this year ,a two and a half metre crocodile was found close to a hospital in Tsholotsho and observers confirmed that the crocodile had been driven by huge floods which had hit several rivers forcing the crocodiles out of the rivers.
“Many people were amused by this occurrence and thought it was some form of magic or occult but I beg to differ. I think due to the heavy rains which had been experienced the previous weeks of January, these crocodiles were driven by flood waters from the rivers forcing the crocodiles to take another routine” said Tafara Chese a resident .
The availability of water almost everywhere is a good reason for elephants to travel long distances, hence human life is threatened. No day passes without Zimparks officers receiving a report of elephants that stray into communities that reside adjacent to wildlife preservation areas.
So far Zimbabwe has no national policy on compensating victims of human wildlife encounters especially vulnerable groups like the elderly, women and children.