By NANCY HANDABILE –
ANIMALS are getting too close; three human deaths in two weeks have once more brought the human-animal conflict into public focus.
A nine-year-old boy of Simoonga village in Livingstone was recently killed by a crocodile near Kalisowe farm, along the Zambezi River and another one in Kitwe in the Kafue River.
A pack of lions raided Chiendiendi village in Luangwa district, killing domestic animals and threatening human life.
The lions have so far killed15 goats and continued to create panic among the residents.
The most affected areas were Chiendiendi and Kakaro villages.
In Mwinilunga, North Western province, lions are reported to have killed five cows and their paw prints have continued to be spotted in Senior Chief Sailunga’s area.
However, crop damage is the most prevalent form of human-wildlife conflict, as evidenced by over 30 hectares of maize field in Mumbwa which was destroyed by elephants.
The occurrence and frequency of crop-raiding is dependent upon a multitude of conditions such as the availability, variability and type of food sources in the area, the level of human activity on a farm, and the type and maturation time of crops as compared to natural food sources.
A wide variety of vertebrates conflict with farming activities in Africa and these include birds, rodents, primates, antelopes, buffalos, hippopotamuses, bush pigs and elephants.
While it is widely recognised that in most cases elephants do not inflict the most damage to subsistence agriculture, they are generally identified as the greatest threat to African farmers.
According the Food Agriculture Organisation Typology of human-wildlife conflict, elephants can destroy a field in a single night raid.
Most small scale farmers are unable to deal with the problem of elephant damage themselves and government rarely offers any compensation.
In most cases the adult male elephants carry out crop-raiding, while the female herds prefer to keep away from areas inhabited by humans.
It is worth noting that during dry seasons elephants can also break into storage bins and steal grain.
When they do so the consequences for food security are even more serious.
Hippopotamuses can cause substantial damage to fields while feeding at night.
Cultivations at risk are those close to rivers or lakes such as rice, vegetables and other crops grown on river banks during a drop in the water level, or crops grown directly in the water.
This is where crocodiles have attacked people.
However, with such cases within short period just shows how severe the problem of human animal conflict is unbecoming.
The major cause of human-animal conflict is people encroaching on game management areas.
Other causes include the shrinking forest cover and increasing human disturbance is opening up more spaces for the conflict.
Human–animal conflict refers to the interaction between wild animals and people and the resultant negative impact on people or their resources.
According the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), communication and public relations officer Mwila Muliyunda, human-animal conflict can also refer to the negative impact on wild animals and their habitat.
Ms Muliyunda, however, admitted that it was a challenge to safe guard communities that live near national parks and protected areas against wildlife because both animals and humans seek to share the same space.
She says human settlement in National Parks is strictly prohibited as well as being found in a national park unaccompanied and without ZAWA’s authorisation.
Ms Muliyunda says while Game Management Area (GMA) is also primarily reserved for wildlife habitation, human co-existence with animals is allowed as long as it does not interfere with wildlife development.
She says wildlife areas are most prone to human animal conflict and as such wildlife officers are stationed in all national parks and GMA’s to respond to any cases of human wildlife conflict.
One of the safety measures taken by ZAWA is the distribution of fireworks to community members who live in areas prone to Animal threats.
The fireworks are used to scare animals that may scare away animals straying towards fields.
“ZAWA also sends officers to go on a scaring mission through blasting of fireworks or use of live ammunition. Human wildlife conflict mitigation measures such as Chilli fences and Chilli bombs are also employed.” Says Ms Muliyunda
She says ZAWA’s role is unique and complex as it has to juggle and find the balance between protecting these communities from dangerous wildlife.
“While at the same time, ensuring that the animals are protected from human hostility and abuse, although we are not oblivious to cases where animals do stray into nearby communities, causing the frequent human-wildlife encounters.” Ms Muliyunda said
ZAWA has been conducting annual educational campaigns in human animal conflict prone areas in order to sensitise people on safe and dangerous behaviour when conducting their business in crocodile infested rivers.
Ms Muliyunda says that there is also a need for stakeholders to intervene help to mobilise resources to drill boreholes, as an immediate solution for communities that rely on water from lakes and rivers.
She says that ZAWA would like to re-emphasise that the safety of every individual lies with themselves and ZAWA cannot be there all the time to provide security to people bathing in the lakes or rivers.
John Siamakala who lives near Lower Zambezi National Park, however, claimed that ZAWA takes long to respond each time they are informed about the presence of wildlife in their vicinity.
He, however, said people living in such areas need more information on how to interact with animals as well as how to avoid human-animal conflict.
“ZAWA needs to do a lot in terms of information dissemination on how to deal with cases of human animal conflicts,” Mr Siamakala said.
He says land near wildlife areas is fertile and this explains why many people would choose to live there; but this obviously is dangerous.
Mr Siamakala says it is not fair to assume that animals will follow the boundaries that have been set up especially if communities live very close to the Wildlife areas.
He explains that animal instinct is basic they rush to places where water and food is as has been witnessed in areas where elephants will trample on fields just to sample little vegetable tendrils.
In areas like the Gwembe where displacement of humans and animals was absolutely human manipulated, one is at odds about whom to blame.
During the building of the Kariba Dam, Tongas who had for centuries lived in the Gwembe Valley along the northern and southern banks of the Zambezi River where displaced to new habitats in the hills above the valley.
In 1958, 57,000 indigenous people were displaced when the entire valley was flooded to create the great Kariba Dam.
The effect this had was that people were moved to hilly areas that have unfavourable land for agriculture.
The other effect is that the animals regularly head into the villages and trample in the fields and also sometimes attack villages.
In a case where animals and humans both lay claim to an area things can become complicated, messy, and downright bloody.
It occurs when growing human populations overlap with established wildlife territory, creating reduction of resources or life to some people and/or wild animals.
People should take precautionary measures if they live in areas near wildlife.
School children for example must move in groups because animals will rarely attack a group, communities should also mobilise themselves to plant chilli bushes around their fields.
There is also need for communities to keep a constant stream of Communication with ZAWA who should in turn have an open door policy to enable easy access for villagers to have diualogue with them.