By Obey Manayiti – The Standard
POACHING in the Hwange region, mostly driven by wealthy foreign nationals, continues to impact nearby communities, despite spirited and coordinated efforts by the government and its partners to curb the crime.
Although official government figures show a decline in poaching in the country overall, a visit to the region has revealed that poaching activities continue to harm surrounding communities, giving government officials and their partners a hard time in beating the criminals at their game.
On approaching Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest and most famous wildlife reserve, motorists are greeted by road signs depicting the park’s animals.
They include the “big five”: lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant and rhino.
As you get closer, signs of the animals increase — on the outskirts of the park, tree barks chewed by elephants are easily visible, and lions scatter in the middle of the road.
Zimbabwe has almost 84 000 elephants, exceeding the carrying capacity of 50 000.
Almost half of the elephants are in the Hwange region. The elephant population has been ballooning over the years, hence the influx of poachers too.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management (ZimParks), working with partners, say they have managed to control the rampant poaching activities and last year only approximately 20 elephants were lost as compared to 300 in 2013.
ZimParks say rhino poaching has almost been contained and the rhinos are largely in safe, enclosed areas.
Hwange National Park is dotted with luxury safari lodges for foreign tourists, but despite their expensive price tags, many neighbouring communities are still impoverished.
Chief Nelukoba Dingane of the Mabale area, a community in the wildlife corridor adjacent to the park, said some people in his community were trying hard to fight poaching while others are not motivated to do so as they feel they were not meaningfully or financially benefiting from the local resource.
“Just two days ago a problem elephant, one which strays into people’s homesteads and sometimes destroys fields among other destructions, was killed but the bulk of the meat was taken away,” said Chief Dingane.
“[Local] people should get something because when the animals come to our areas, they destroy the fields and…people lose everything.”