Thupeyo Muleya, Beitbridge Bureau
THERE was panic in Beitbridge’s Ward 5 when villagers mistook two cheetahs for lions on Tuesday.
Most villagers in Goda area located some 26 km along the Beitbridge-Masvingo Highway stopped all farming activities around 7am and locked children in their houses.
The news about lions being spotted in the area spread like veldfire.
Scores of villages gathered in one of the maize fields to have a glimpse of the wildcats.
Their nerves where only calmed when Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management (Zimparks) rangers arrived around 10 am.
“We have done our investigations. These are cheetahs which have been killing goats and sheep in most villages in Beitbridge East,” said the Wildlife officer in charge of Beitbridge Mr Bonizi Manuwere as he addressed the villagers.
Cheetahs rarely attack human beings and the few reported cases worldwide are often attributed to self defence when the animals are cornered.
Mr Manuwere said rangers from Bubye Valley Conservancy (BVC) had been called to sedate the cats.
He said the rangers had captured one of the cheetahs while the other escaped towards Three Way Safaris.
Mr Manuwere said Zimparks officials have been receiving numerous reports on problem animals from rural communities around the district.
He said the two cheetahs had killed 13 goats and four sheep in Beitbridge East since the beginning of the year.
“We encourage people to report any problem animals to our offices so that we may assist them professionally,” said Mr Manuwere.
One of the villagers, Miss Agness Sibata, said she nearly passed out when she saw the two animals while strapping her baby to her back.
“We were going to the family field when we saw these animals. Although we had no clear view, we assumed they were lions.
I was in the company of two other minor children aged six years and carrying my baby on the back who is 18 months old,” she said.
The woman said she informed some village elders who called the Civil Protection Unit.
Mr Manatsa Kwinika said they were only calmed by the arrival of the Zimparks authorities on the ground.
“We have heard many stories about lions straying from nearby conservancies and when we heard about the strange animals, we tracked the spoor and assumed they were baby lions,” said Mr Kwinika.
He said they were worried the animals could attack people in their homes or fields.
Mr Kwinika said the villagers had gathered at the scene to closely monitor the predators while awaiting help from authorities.
Mahuhushe area’s acting village head, Ms Fortune Sibanda said word had been sent to all homesteads for parents to lock children indoors and be vigilant until the wild animals had been captured.
“We sent alert messages around the communities in this area through the local District Rapid Response committee. We are glad we got a swift response from the national parks authorities,” she said.
Hyenas, lions, buffaloes and elephants have become a perennial head ache for most villagers living in rural Beitbridge.
The worst affected are those living closer to national parks and safaris in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.