Elephants cause chaos, death

Peter Kapasa met his fate one fateful night after a drinking spree recently when he came face to face with a wounded elephant.

According to police, the rogue elephant killed Kapasa after it gave chase. Police could not shed more details.

But an eye witness said the elephant used its trunk to hit him against tree stumps before piecing him from the back into the stomach.

Kapasa’s tragedy is not new in Zambia as 133 others have fallen victim to marauding elephants since 2002 . In the Southern African country that prioritises tourism at the expense of human life, action like these further fuel a ‘hate for the tourism asset’.

Zambia protects the elephants, because the animals earn the country US$13,000 per beast per annum and the challenge to overcome the human /wildlife conflict has created acrimony between wild life authorities and people in Game Management Areas.

The Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), which admits that the human/animal conflict was on the increase, says in addition to human life lost, unquantified crops and livestock have been laid waste as a result of this forced co-existence between man and nature.

According to ZAWA, a total of 14 people died from elephant attacks in 2002, 12 perished in 2003, another 51 died in 2004, while 56 died in 2005. Several incidence have been reported for 2006.

ZAWA explained that human /wildlife conflicts were almost chronic in the entire Luangwa valley Ecosystem, the Zambezi valley Ecosystem and in areas along the major water bodies such as Lake Bangweulu, Tanganyika, Ithezi Tezhi, Mweru-wa-Ntipa, Mweru and Kariba.

During a recent visit to Siavonga and Livingstone in southern Zambia, sharing the borders with Zimbabwe, several people have lost their lives to wounded elephants which crossed the border from neighboring Zimbabwe

Despite concerted efforts by people in affected areas to seek protection from ZAWA, little help has been rendered.

According to the local people, the problem has been compounded by people sharing common the local bitter-sweet fruits known as ‘Masau and Mabuyu’ with elephants, resulting in many people being trampled to death.

The villagers are, however, angry that the government was not keen to cull the elephants or compensate for loss of human life.

“Many people have died and others injured, while fetching Masau and Mabuyu, or while tending to their crop,” said chief Simango, alias Penias Chilimbwa a traditional ruler in Siavonga near the border with Zimbabwe.

“We are prohibited by law to kill them, but when we tell ZAWA to help or seek compensation, we are instead told to be careful or run away from the beasts and there is no compensation under the law.”

Elina Hamunzele recently lost her 12-year-old daughter, Susan, after a herd of elephants attacked her while picking tomatoes from a nearby field.

The situation was particularly dangerous during the night when the elephants move from one village to the other looking for food from storage sheds.

“During the day, we are at peace, but at night, we are frightened,” said the 40-year-old Hamunzele, a widow who sits outside her house every night keeping vigil, despite suffering from recurring bronchitis.

Felistus Kasepa of Kasitu village said she was scared of sending her children to school for fear of meeting elephants on their way to school.

She narrated that a relative recently escaped death when she crawled away from an elephant as she went to deliver milk to a nearby village.

Boyd Chambwe of Ngombe Ilede in Siavonga survived an elephant attack in July when he met a herd of elephants on his way to the forest to pick Masau fruit.

“I’m alive by God’s grace. If I had not fallen into the trench, the elephant would have killed me using its trunk,” he said, showing the author an open wound he suffered on his right knee after he fell into a trench while trying to flee.

John Chikapa of Lumbembe, 33, does not hide his hate for elephants: “I hate the elephant very much because it has left me hungry. If I was allowed to shoot, I would kill a good number of them,” he said, pointing at the food barn that had been destroyed by elephants.

The villagers in the area earn a meager living from growing maize and other subsistence crops for consumption and sale. They say there is nothing much they can do to fight the elephants, as killing wildlife is a crime in Zambia.

In Livingstone, the tourist capital of Zambia, like many other parts of Zambia, people have been killed by marauding elephants, which strayed into the area after pulling down electric fencing confining them to game reserves.

The Southern Times learnt in Livingstone that more than five people, including a two-year-old child, have been killed this year alone.

Senior Chief Mukuni of the Toka-Leya people of Kazungula, 700kms from Lusaka and at the border with Zimbabwe lamented the increased human/animal conflict explaining that many of his subjects have been victims.

“We have lost many lives, particularly women who have fallen victims to the elephants, because they can’t run as fast as men and end up being trampled,” he said.

He added: “We have tried to seek protection from ZAWA, but they appear to be in favour of the elephant and all we are told is to be careful ‘ but that is not enough. Who will compensate us for lives lost?”

Efforts to scare away elephants using methods used in East Kenya, which also has huge elephant populations, have failed.

These methods include sprinkling chili peppers around areas inhabited by human beings and producing sounds unpleasant to elephants. These methods have proved unsuccessful as the elephants have found ways of getting round them.

But ZAWA is on the defense and warned people in Game Management Areas and other surrounding habitats to take care, especially at night, saying it is the government’s to promote and preserve elephants.

“Local people should realise that these animals are wild by nature and try and protect themselves when they see people. Elephants should be respected and feared,” said ZAWA Director General Louis Saiwana.

Saiwana attributed the increased population to high poaching levels in Zimbabwe forcing elephants to seek refugee in Zambia.

Zambia has around 30, 000 elephants ‘ an important tourist attraction, but a risk to human life.

November 2006
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