Violet Ngwenya recalls how she watched helplessly as her sister in law was being mauled by a lion while trying to protect her herd of cattle from the marauding wild animal.
By Alwande Sibanda
Ngwenya (42) from Sisonke Village on the outskirts of Victoria Falls said the late Susan Tshuma, who was 52, died on January 12, 2016 in one of the mounting cases of human-wildlife conflict in the area.
Sisonke, like many communities surrounding Zimbabwe’s game reserves, is under increasing pressure from wild animals that are encroaching into their settlements in search of food and water as a result of recurring droughts.
Incidents of lions and hyenas that encroach into villagers’ kraals to kill goats, sheep, cows, donkeys and cattle are now too common in the village that borders the Woodlands Conservancy near Victoria Falls.
Tshuma was guarding her kraal when the lion that took her life pounced.
“There was nothing else that we could have done to save her life because that lion came from Woodlands Conservancy and it was at night,” Ngwenya said, relieving the 2016 incident.
“They had come as a pride and a lead female attacked her while she slept in the kraal watching over her four herd of cattle.
“We were awoken by her loud screams and cries for help and when we rushed to her kraal, we found the lion that had attacked her ripping off her flesh and its claws were on her neck.
“We tried to bang containers, scream while men whistled and dogs barking on the other side, but that lion was not intimidated.”
Ngwenya said Tshuma died while they watched helplessly with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) rangers arriving later.
The problem lion was killed, but it was not enough consolation for the Ngwenya family, which is battling to recover from the tragedy.
“Her homestead has been destroyed and all her livestock have also been killed by lions,” Ngwenya said.
“So, you can imagine the torture to us as a family and his children although they had grown and relocated to the city.”
Villages on the edges of the Hwange National Park, Forestry Commission and private conservancy areas around Hwange district, are bearing the brunt of the human-wildlife conflict that is escalating with the increasing frequency of droughts.
Several people have lost their lives in the district after being attacked by wild animals, some of them in their homesteads as they tried to shield their livestock from attacks.
According to Zimparks, 2021 saw 70 people being killed by wild animals such as elephants, lions and hippos and a majority of them were from areas such as Matabeleland North’s Binga and Hwange, Mbire and Bikita districts.
Even those in urban areas such as Victoria Falls, which are located within game reserves are not spared.
One of the most prominent victims of the human-wildlife conflict in Victoria Falls last year was Clever Kapandura, a game ranger from the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit who died in October while conducting anti-poaching duties around the resort city.
A Victoria Falls bartender was also gored to death by an elephant that had strayed into the city centre near the Victoria Falls police station in November last year.
Zimparks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo said the upsurge in human-wildlife conflict cases was fueled by lack of resources to provide watering points within game reserves, poor infrastructure and poaching activities around wildlife sanctuaries.
“We understand our people’s concerns and it’s unfortunate that this happens almost on a daily basis, yet there is nothing much that we can do,” Farawo said.
“Our parks are congested with an elephant population, which is close to 50 000 yet our land is not increasing.
“So, this is why we see these animals now encroaching into our people’s villages preying on their crops, livestock and (people) because they are congested and in search of water and food sources as the parks are drying out while also running away from poachers.
“We understand their concerns and we hope that when we submit them to the government, they will be able to be assisted.”
Besides the threats against their lives, villagers are spending sleepless nights trying to protect their crops and livestock from the stray wild animals.
Tymon Sibanda, a village head from the Mvuthu area on the outskirts of Victoria Falls, said his subjects had lost livestock to hyenas and lions at alarming levels.
“I have lost over five cows to lions and the whole village has lost over 100 herd of cattle and goats that are normally killed from the kraals,” Sibanda.
“Lions and hyenas are preying on our livestock, while baboons, birds and elephants have destroyed our crops in the fields and vegetable gardens.”
Ania Dube, a 24-year-old mother from BH27 in the Chief Mvuthu area said she has to go to her fields as early as 4AM every day to scare away birds and baboons, and at times elephants.
“I walk about three kilometres to the fields at around 4AM, and at times I even sleep there when these animals, especially the birds and the baboons become uncontrollable,” Dube said.
“I beat drums and scream to scare them away because when I was growing up, we used to plot stick objects and cover them with black plastics to deceive the animals, but that is no longer working that is why I go to their fields until evening.”
Dube said the invasion by wild animals is worsening poverty levels as people now spend most of their time protecting crops or livestock.
“People are driven into desperation and poverty,” she said.
“When people are herding cattle, they now have to move in large groups for security reasons and most of the time is now spent trying to fend off the animals rather than doing other productive things.
Villagers accused Zimparks of failing to take action against the animals that escaped from game reserves.
“We have called them several times and they have not done anything yet the losses keep mounting,” Sibanda said.
He suggested that Zimparks should send their rangers to be on constant guard of the wildlife while also providing solar lights for villagers to mount on their kraals to scare away predators such as lions and hyenas.
Farawo said the villager’s views were valid, but they did not have adequate resources to assist them.
“Last year alone, we received over 2 000 distress calls from the communities, and this is sad on our part,” he added.
“ We would like to encourage them to report every problem animal to us so that we react as quickly as we can to either eliminate it, or to translocate it and when we get funds, we will engage with villagers on what they would like us to do.”