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World Elephant Day: Human wildlife conflict could be transformed into human wildlife coexistence

As the world celebrates World Elephant Day, Wild Africa recognises government and NGOs in Zimbabwe for gains made in the protection of elephants and the communities that live alongside them – and calls for wider societal engagement.

There are an estimated 415, 000 African elephants left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund. From habitat loss, to poaching for ivory, to human-wildlife conflict and climate change, elephants face multiple threats that have seen their numbers dwindle. Zimbabwe, home to a quarter of the remaining population, is in a unique position to protect and promote this majestic species, as well as benefit more from wildlife tourism and conservation initiatives.

Wild Africa recognises achievements in the form of new agreements for joint management of wilderness areas, and innovative solutions for human-wildlife conflict, as indicators of a potentially brighter future for elephants and communities.

In May this year, the Zimbabwean and Zambian governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) establishing the Lower Zambezi-Mana Pools (LOZAMAP) Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), a 17745 km2 zone that includes National Parks, Game Management Areas, communal land, conservancies, and private land. This will allow elephants to move along traditional migration routes they’ve travelled for millennia and creates the foundation for transboundary tourism to bolster economic growth and job creation in both countries. Importantly, local communities are set to participate in, and benefit from, the development of strategies and frameworks designed for the sustainable management of natural resources.

This follows another decisive act by the Zimbabwean government at the end of 2022 to establish a specialised human-wildlife conflict unit within the Department of Parks and Wildlife (ZimParks) and create a fund offering relief to victims of human wildlife conflict (HWC). While the fund does not yet cover damage to crops and loss of livestock, it is a first step towards the easing of tensions between communities and their wild neighbours.

Human wildlife conflict is a national problem in Zimbabwe where many wilderness areas are unfenced. While fencing is sometimes a viable option, the cost of construction and maintenance can be prohibitive.

Here, more innovative solutions are required, like that championed by Tikobane Trust, an Educational Organisation working adjacent to Hwange National Park. Tikobane works in human wildlife conflict mitigation training and is popularising an organically made elephant repellent developed in partnership between WildAid and Save the Elephants. A mixture of common farm ingredients like chilli, garlic, ginger, dung, and rotten eggs, it should be applied regularly for optimal effect, either directly to crops or in bottles along a fence line. Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme, an international initiative, is experimenting with chilli fences, chilli bricks and reflective fencing alongside the implementation of watch towers. Other organisations, like Connected Conservation and African Wildlife Foundation, are also making headway in this complex space.

Yet, more innovation, training, funding, and private sector involvement is needed to develop context specific strategies and solutions. Dr Moreangels Mbizah, Founder and Executive Director of Wildlife Conservation Action, explains, “Conflict between humans and elephants is one of the major conservation and developmental challenges facing our country. In this case, there is no one size fits all solution. We need local communities, as well as stakeholders from government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, to find holistic solutions that address these complex challenges.”

Farai Chapoterera, Wild Africa’s Zimbabwe representative, feels optimistic about a collaborative future. “It is encouraging to see increased community involvement in the dialogue to transition from Human Wildlife Conflict to Human Wildlife Coexistence,” she says. “The stronger our collaborations become, the more impact we will realise.”