Emma Mandlazi’s Courage Inspires Save Valley Communities to Protect Wildlife Despite Losses During Raids

Staff Reporter

Female Ranger, Emma Mandlazi, from Village 31 in Bikita’s Ward 26, now considered a community heroine after saving crops and human lives

Save Valley, Masvingo – Emma Mandlazi, 28 years old, from Village 31 in Bikita’s Ward 26, has become the talk of her community due to her recent display of bravery, which saved lives and crops during raids by elephants and hippos.

It took special courage for Emma to track down stray elephants and hippos as she documented their behavior, captured how much crop they destroyed and how a hippo mauled to death, a woman in her community.

While there are male community rangers in this area, Emma exhibited tenacity and went an extra mile to do what her male counterparts were afraid to do during the tracking and documentation process. As a result of her efforts, ZimParks has intervened and increased human resources.

Emma is a female ranger participating in the new Save Valley Conservancy Women’s Community Ranger initiative, supported by DEFRA.

Due to the fact that Emma’s village is located on the boundary with Save Valley Conservancy, human-wildlife conflict is common. When the project started, the community was initially skeptical due to Emma’s gender.

However, as the project progressed, its aim became clear: to empower women and ensure the conservation of the community’s natural, human, and cultural resources.

Today, the community fully supports Emma, who provides guidance on wildlife-human coexistence in Save Valley.

Village 31 lies on the shores of the Turwi River, a vital water source for more than 200 homes in the village.

Livelihood and Conflict

This area is a green belt, where farmers grow maize, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Crops from these fields are highly valued, especially this year, when harvests have been decimated by the El Nino-induced drought.

Watermelons are abundantly produced in this area due to the semi-arid climatic conditions. They serve as a significant energy source and a source of hydration for both humans and wildlife in the enduring heat of Village 31.

Hippos, being grass-eaters, pose a threat to the community’s watermelon fields, which are vital for their survival.

The community’s survival is closely linked to the vegetables they grow, along with the watermelons, which serve as their lifeline in the harsh climate.

Every day, evidence of the community’s reliance on watermelons and other vegetables and fruits is observed as the big green, rounded watermelons are transported in donkey-drawn carts to Chiremwaremwa, Nyika, and Bikita markets.

Thanks to DEFRA’s support for the women’s community ranger initiative, Emma’s efforts have yielded positive results.

Her role is not only about protecting the community’s resources but also about ensuring the village’s economic stability.

This is a challenging task for the community ranger, who has recently started her work and is still figuring out how best to serve her village.

Last month, before being engaged by the SVC-Defra initiative, elephants had destroyed most of the plants in this village.

Hippos were also posing a significant threat to the village every night.

With the training Emma has received, the community trusted her and rallied behind her as she started tracking problem animals under the Problem Animal Control strategy.

Emma has been meticulously documenting the destruction of the green belt by elephants and hippos, providing reports to the community liaison manager of the Save Valley Conservancy.

The reports, which included the death of one woman, highlighted the community’s overwhelming situation and the need for additional resources.

Douglas Kuramba, ZimParks’ senior regional manager based in Senuko and overseeing Save Valley Conservancy, took action. On April 13th, he deployed senior ZimParks rangers, marking the beginning of a stakeout.

Emma led the team to track the problem animal in the densely populated riverbed. The goal was to scare the animal away from the area, with lethal action being the last resort due to the imminent danger to human life.

The team located the animal, and on the afternoon of April 13th, they pushed it downriver.

The team stayed overnight to assess whether the hippo would return to the village. Fortunately, on the morning of the 14th, there were no signs indicating the hippo’s return.

This outcome was exciting for the villagers. The animal retreated out of the community, and no human lives were lost.

“I am grateful for the cooperation extended to my community by the National Parks of Zimbabwe and the Save Valley Conservancy under the DEFRA program to drive the hippo out of the community,” said Ranger Emma.

“This initiative demonstrates that with proper data, accurate documentation, community mobilization, and cooperation, the lives of both animals and people can be saved,” she emphasized.

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