Elephant menace on the rise for Zimbabwe villagers
Nkosana Dlamini, China Daily
December 7, 2022
Farmer Zephaniah Moyo recounts how he once hurled stones at nighttime
intruders on his patch of land in Zimbabwe. Confronted by a group of
elephants, the 54-year-old was never that confident in the solution. But
the David versus Goliath stand reflected his desperation.
The horror of nocturnal visitors from neighboring forests feasting on his
crops has become a frightening reality for him. And that also goes for his
two wives and 13 children.
Moyo produces maize and sorghum on his medium-sized plot, which gives him 2
metric tons of the staple at the end of every cropping season. His farm is
in Dete, a semiarid area in Zimbabwe's wildlife-rich Matabeleland North
His village borders a game park that is home to the country's largest
Just months ago, four elephants paid the family a visit and helped
themselves to their maize crop.
"When they start eating your crop, they become very stubborn when you try
to drive them away especially if you are not armed," Moyo said.
On that night he chose to confront the elephants, he armed himself with
stones, a catapult and a torch to try to chase the crop raiders away — with
his family in support.
"I showed a torch … and shot one of them with a catapult. I was relieved
that they walked away without charging at us," he said.
Moyo said elephants often get frightened by the torchlight, as torches are
often used by poachers.
Although Moyo won the battle that night, the elephants had already helped
themselves to nearly half his crop. "The elephants are now as good as being
part of my big family as they are competing for food with my children," he
Moyo's anguish is shared by Lovemore Ndlovu, a neighbor with 11 children.
Ndlovu, 52, speaks of the lions and hyenas that attack livestock, as well
as the baboons that raid maize granaries.
In response to the depletion of grazing lands, authorities removed the game
park fence so that cattle can graze inside the park.
"Three elephants entered my sorghum field in May this year. We tried to
call CAMPFIRE but they only came three hours later," he said, referring to
the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources.
"By then, the elephants had cleared everything. I have no one to turn to
for my children's food. Even more painful is that we have no compensation
even when it is evident we have lost our crops to elephants. What will my
To repel the problem of animals, villagers in the area spend sleepless
nights guarding their crops until the end of the harvesting season.
Villagers are not allowed to kill the elephants, which often retreat into
the forest after feasting on the crops.
The plight of Moyo and Ndlovu is typical for the villages bordering game
parks. When the animals fail to get enough to feed on, they trespass into
the villages, where residents are sometimes trampled in encounters.
With nearly 93,000 elephants, according to the last countrywide elephant
census in 2014, Zimbabwe has the world's second-largest population after
Botswana, and about a quarter of Africa's elephants.
Sixty Zimbabweans were reported to have been killed by elephants in the
first five months of the year.
Bearing the Brunt
Villagers who bear the brunt of the conflict have accused safari operators
of using salt to lure elephants from the forests to come closer to human
settlements where they can be viewed by tourists. But once they are done
with the viewing, the animals become the burden of villagers.
Emmanuel Fundira, president of the Safari Operators Association of
Zimbabwe, disputes this claim.
Fundira said the problem is caused by people settling into animal habits.
"It is the people themselves who encroach and start giving themselves land
in animal areas," he said.
Fundira said Dete, where Moyo and Ndlovu live, with many more other
families, was largely reserved for safari operations.
He said operators have instead built waterholes within animal habitats for
them to drink and it is often in those places that visitors watch the
Conservationist Ndlelende Ncube said: "While indeed humans are justifiably
concerned about the elephant menace, let's also work on methods that do not
cause harm to elephants. If we continue killing elephants, we risk them
Ncube, director of the Tikobane Trust, which works to prevent conflict
between people and wildlife, said people should use repellents to deter the
Mangaliso Ndlovu, Zimbabwe's minister for environment, climate and tourism,
said growth in human and elephant populations is worse ning the problem.
"In 1980, our population in Zimbabwe was 9 million and 48,000 elephants. We
have since increased now to 16 million while the elephant population has
also doubled, to 94,000," the minister said.
He said the country has no policies to compensate those who would have lost
lives, crops or livestock through human-animal conflicts.