We often visit the bush and think ‘gosh it would be lovely to live here and have wildlife on your door step each day’. But would it, really? Oh course it would be wonderful to see the elephants wandering past everyday on their way to find water, or the warthogs snuffling around your tent in search of food. But imagine if you were trying to make a living from where you lived by growing vegetables or crops, raising your chickens and cattle so your family could eat? The veges wouldn’t get their delicate leaves a cm from the surface of the soil before something, birds, Baboons, Warthogs, Bushbuck, Elephants, Buffalo……would have eaten, stomped or killed them. The chickens would be a bush takeaway for the likes of Serval, Genets, Wild Dog and the cattle are sitting targets for Lion and Hyenas! With the human population expanding as we are, our living spaces are encroaching on the wild life areas, gone are the ‘buffer zones’ of old where there was land set aside to act as a buffer between the national parks and the communal areas. Humans need every single metre there is and we are creating pressure on the wild life areas, with more poaching, poisoning and hunting happening because there is no longer enough space for us to have our 20 cattle grazing for 2kms to feed our family.
Human – Wildlife conflict is a huge and very real problem for both sides. Elephants have less area to forage so they come and eat the beautiful maize growing not too far from their ranges, the rural communities have been putting all their time and money in to nurturing that crop to feed their families for the next 5 months, and a herd of elephant come in and destroy it in a night. It is very understandable for them to want to kill those creatures that threaten their livelihood or have to resort to poaching to feed their families.
This is not a problem seen only in this country, it is worldwide. In Zimbabwe, there are a few projects that have been setup to try and address this problem. One of which is The Soft Foot Alliance which works with the surrounding communities of Hwange National Park. On our 3 week trip we were lucky enough to meet a couple who drive this initiative and since have been following and researching their projects on facebook. This Trust is “dedicated to improving the lives and landscapes of people living on the boundary of Hwange National Park and at the same time achieving a sustainable co-existence with wildlife.” How do they do this you wonder? By helping the local people understand wild life and the environment they can help them live in harmony, while not changing their way of life drastically. A project like the ‘Mobile Boma’ to keep cattle safer from lions and hyenas, as well as at the same time using the cattle waste to fertilizer their crops. Or the setting up of bee hives around vegetable patches and maize fields to discourage elephants from coming in to eat them, with an added benefit of having honey to eat and sell. It is ideas and education like this that will strengthen and promote both the people and the wild life of this planet. The communities don’t need ‘handouts’ to sort their problems, they need to be educated and shown how to do it for themselves, time spent helping them is more valuable than money tossed at them. In my opinion, this only helps the short term problems and not the long term sustainable future for generations to come.
Photos credited to The Soft Foot Alliance Trust