Hwange Heroes: Guardians Empowered to Protect Wildlife and Communities

–¬†These community volunteers, drawn from local villages and often including village elders, actively patrol their areas and play a crucial role in promoting coexistence.

Staff Reporter

Hwange, Zimbabwe – A new chapter unfolds for human-wildlife coexistence in Hwange District, Zimbabwe’s wildlife haven. Fourteen dedicated individuals from Tsholotsho, Lupane, and Matetsi communities have recently graduated from an intensive training program, transforming them into guardians for both wildlife and their neighbours.

This ground-breaking initiative, spearheaded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), is fuelled by the generous support of the Australian Embassy, Zimbabwe’s Direct Aid Program (DAP).

Living Alongside Wildlife: The Challenge

Hwange and its surrounding areas are a tapestry of wildlife movement. Elephants and lions roam freely, searching for food and water. Their expansive movements inevitably lead to overlap with human settlements and livestock. 

This interaction can sometimes turn dangerous, resulting in human injury or loss of life, damage to crops and property, and even retaliatory killings of wild animals. 

This human-wildlife conflict (HWC) is a complex issue with far-reaching consequences, impacting not just local communities but also the global community through interconnected supply chains. 

Climate change further intensifies the problem, making HWC a significant threat to conservation efforts, sustainable livelihoods, and even the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Empowering Communities: The Solution

IFAW’s unwavering belief – that fostering tolerance hinges on empowering those most impacted – underpins their #RoomToRoam initiative. 

With financial support from the Australian Embassy’s DAP, IFAW is collaborating with Zimparks, local authorities, and traditional leaders to implement a year-long project titled “An integrated approach to HWC management using an early warning system and predator proof bomas (PPBs) in HMZ landscape.”

The Guardians: A First Line of Defence

At the heart of this project lies the establishment of Primary Response Teams (PRTs) – the HMZ landscape’s pilot HWC management community institution. These guardians act as the first line of defence against HWC incidents. 

These community volunteers, drawn from local villages and often including village elders, actively patrol their areas and play a crucial role in promoting coexistence.

PRT Roles and Responsibilities

Empowered through regular training and equipped with basic gear like bicycles, mobile phones, and flashlights, PRTs perform various critical activities:

First responders: They act swiftly in the event of HWC, managing the situation until Zimparks’ response teams arrive.

Deterrence: They employ techniques to drive away problem animals like elephants and lions from human settlements.

Community education: They raise awareness among community members about HWC mitigation strategies, safety protocols, and how to avoid actions that might trigger conflict.

Crowd management: During wildlife capture operations, they help manage crowds and ensure safety.

Early warning system: They alert communities about wildlife presence and help de-escalate conflict situations.

Patrolling: They regularly patrol areas identified as conflict hotspots.

Data collection: They document HWC incidents using GIS and photography, reporting valuable data to Zimparks.

First aid: They are trained to provide basic first aid to victims of HWC incidents.

A Brighter Future for All

The establishment of PRTs empowers communities to take an active role in protecting themselves and wildlife. This initiative fosters a support system for community members facing HWC and builds stronger relationships between communities and wildlife authorities. Additionally, PRTs function as an early warning system, allowing for timely responses and reducing the likelihood of injuries, deaths, and crop damage.

By equipping guardians with the knowledge and tools they need, this program paves the way for a future where communities and wildlife can thrive together in the majestic Hwange District.

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