Dec 7, 2020

Community Guardian protecting wildlife and people

A Community guardian is a rural community’s link with the wildlife authorities who are the custodians of wildlife and the NGO’s who work with communities in assisting them on human-wildlife conflict mitigation measures.  The role that this person plays is many faceted and includes monitoring and reporting all wildlife incidents affecting the community (livestock killings by lions, elephants decimating crops, crocodile attacks etc.,) assisting in remedial measures, as well as carrying out conservation education.  By responding rapidly and positively to human-wildlife conflict incidents and through conservation education, the Community Guardian helps prevent retaliatory killings against wildlife being undertaken by the affected community.  

The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) works with rural communities adjacent to two National Parks:  Zambezi National Park in the Victoria Falls area and Chizarira National Park which lies south of Lake Kariba which is the world’s largest man-made lake and reservoir by volume. 

During the period being reported on, ALERT was urgently requested to assist villagers by protecting their livestock against lions.  Unfortunately funds to employ a full-time community guardian were not available however a village spokesperson, acting as a guardian, reported the incidents to ALERT who, with the help of the spokesperson and villagers, were able to put up one mobile predator-proof livestock holding pen in the Mucheni ward in the Binga area north of Chizarira National Park. 

The traditional pens made of local materials are often insufficient to protect livestock against predators.  Villagers try and keep lions away from livestock pens by making a loud noise using vuvuzelas, by banging pots, and shouting etc.) and by building fires around the pen.  This is dangerous to the villager and is not sustainable.  The community guardian will be the person to assist villagers in building a better pen, and who will try and convince villagers not to poison the lion or spotted hyaena responsible for livestock killings.

Until we can employ a guardian full time, ALERT research staff working in Chizarira National Park react to incidents such as these as quickly as they can but often only receive a report a few days after an incident.

Nov 8, 2020

Elephant research update; Chizarira National Park

ALERT initiated an elephant research project in Chizarira National Park (1,910km2) in 2019 together with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.  The Chizarira National Park ecologist works closely with the ALERT researcher.  Sadly, he was involved in a light aircraft accident whilst on wildlife counts.  One team member was killed, and two injured.  He was apparently not injured but despite two weeks of searching he has not been found.  The plane went down in hilly country in the mid-Zambezi Valley.

Despite this sad news we continue the research that we initiated and last month collared another female elephant.  The operation went well and the female was back on her feet soon after receiving the drug antagonist and rejoined the herd.  At the time of writing we are at Chizarira to try and collar a bull elephant.  Bull elephant wander more widely that the female herds and we are hoping to obtain some valuable data that could indicate connecting wildlife corridors between the Protected Areas around Chizarira.  

We are obtaining interesting movement patterns from the two collared females.  The collar has a built in GPS which transmits a position signal to a satellite.  We then download these points onto an electronic map.

The one collared female with her family group, appears to make short forays into the nearby villages outside of the park.  These visits are not for long: in at night and back into the park before sunrise.  This is undoubtedly a clever tactic that keeps them safe from reprisals from villagers but is nevertheless cause for concern.

We are looking at the possible trigger which initiates movements out of the unfenced park.  Where the elephants left the park to enter the villages, there is a high escarpment (600 meters) which normally acts as a barrier to wildlife.  However elephants use contours in a zig zag fashion to gain access up and down steep gradients.  At the time of writing the park is very dry and hot, and the forays into the villages would normally be to raid maize crops.  However planting has not begun and it could be that the elephant are investigating old traditional wildlife corridors, looking for better forage in other Protected Areas.  It could be that they were disturbed during this investigation.

Thank you for your support of this important project which we continue to carry out despite many challenges.   

Sep 14, 2020

Update: Mitigation of human wildife conflict

Conflict frequently occurs between wildlife and people and when the livelihoods and safety of communities are threatened.  Similarly the lives of wildlife can be threatened when they leave Protected Areas and predate on livestock or, in the case of elephants, destroy crops.

The Communities we are assisting are impoverished and are unable to put in place costly livestock protection measures to protect their cattle, goats and donkeys.  As an NGO African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) is reaching out to two communities: one around Victoria Falls and the other around Chizarira National park in the Zambezi Valley.  We are assisting them with measures that will reduce (mitigate) conflict, while at the same time ensuring that they are accountable for the mitigation measures and identify with the help projects.

To date we have used LED lights around livestock pens where livestock is kept at night, and also put in place predator-proof mobile pens where, similarly the livestock is kept at night.  To date no predator attacks have taken place on livestock kept in these facilities but a lot of further assistance is needed.

It would be easier to build large livestock holding pens and pen in livestock from multiple homesteads.  Unfortunately cultural beliefs will not allow one homestead to keep their livestock with livestock of another homestead, which means we have to assist individual homesteads.

While our aim is to support the communities against predation, we are equally committed to protecting the predators that may predate on livestock not kept safe.  If livestock is killed villagers carry out revenge killings often through poisoning whereby whole prides of lion can be killed.  The more protection we can give to villagers, the less chance predators will have of killing cattle or goats and the need for revenge killings is reduced or totally stopped.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions no progress has been made during the period covered by this report, however we have kept in touch with Community leaders and have assured them that we will continue to assist as soon as we can move about freely again.  

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