TKPP: Mitigating Human Predator conflict around Hwange National Park

Conflict between carnivores and human communities poses a serious threat to the persistence of carnivores in the wild, as well as impacting the lives and livelihoods of impoverished people living in the vicinity of protected areas. Our project has gained a solid understanding of the magnitude and importance of conflict. Our approach in this component of the project is to work with the community to try to limit conflict incidents.

Lion guardians

The programme uses locally employed villagers, known locally as ‘Long Shields’ to assist the community with livestock protection and to provide a liaison with wildlife management and conservation bodies. During the course of their day, the Long shields are on the ground amongst their people and actively patrolling their ‘territories’. They monitor animal movements (both domestic and wild) using regularly walked survey routes looking for tracks. They monitor and consult on the strength and maintenance of people’s bomas (livestock enclosures) and in many cases help repair or rebuild them.

Long Shield team

The Long Shields team, photo by Brent Stapelkamp

Early warning system – Lion watch

We closely monitor lion prides, with GPS satellite collars, situated on the park boundary that we know from experience are likely to come into conflict with people and provide an early warning system to local people through our ‘lion guardian’ programme. Because of the improved communication now due to the issuing of 3G capable phones and through an app called “Whatsapp” the guardians are part of a live feed of information and react very quickly to potential problems. When a lion moves out of the protected area in to community lands the local Lion Shield is alerted and they in turn inform their community and the livestock are moved elsewhere. In some cases the Lion Shield physically chases the lion back into the protected area. Our lion watch early warning system has issued almost 200 warnings and averted livestock raiding directly on 35 occasions.

Community fencing

One important area that can be improved to mitigate losses of livestock to wild predators is husbandry of livestock. Our findings suggest that a common factor in many conflict incidents is that animals are left out of protective bomas (corrals) at night, or are poorly protected during the day. A potential solution that we are pioneering is to encourage villagers to communally and collaboratively herd cattle in the day and to keep them protected in a well-constructed communal boma during the night. Our ‘mobile bomas’ are constructed of portable materials (cable and PVC canvas sheets) rather than the traditional logs and brushwood.  The opaque nature of the boma material, compared to high visibility of traditional bomas, means that predators are unable to see into the enclosure and are unwilling to risk jumping the walls. This method of herding may also be beneficial for crop production; the cattle urinate and dung and break up the soil cap, fertilising the land needs for up to three years. The first communal boma was introduced in May 2013 and the use and benefits of the programme are being monitored by the project.

mobile boma

A completed mobile boma with the local community in Chiguswi, Zimbabwe

Anti-poaching assistance

Since 2008, Hwange Lion Researchers have been involved in supporting and/or managing an anti-poaching unit (APU). The anti-poaching project aims to provide the man-power, logistical support and resources to assist Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Zimbabwe, to reduce levels of bushmeat and other poaching, in the boundary areas of Hwange National Park. The APU unit consists of fully equipped, professionally trained and uniformed anti-poaching scouts. They are paid, fed, equipped and housed by the project. We also provide transport for patrol deployments and transport of arrested poachers to police custody.

School outreach

It is crucially important to engage the local community on important issues surrounding the problems of lion depredation on livestock. With this is mind we have written and produced a comic book that introduces important aspects of the project. The comic was distributed free of charge to schoolchildren in the area. We also visit local schools and spoke about lions and the work we do, including the history and importance of lions to our economy, our ecosystem and our cultures.

Long Shield Emmanuel Tembo speaking to schoolchildren

Long Shield Emmanuel Tembo speaking to schoolchildren about lions, photo by Brent Stapelkamp