Understanding the behaviour of wild animals which are said to be problematic in communities is important as this helps in finding solutions to the challenges they pose.
Some of these animals are hard to control as they are nocturnal, for example, hyenas which are rarely seen during the day. We only hear their whoops and laughs at night as they weave through our communities.
Lions, being cathemeral, that is, active both during the day and night also require a different solution. In most communities where human and wildlife conflict is of major concern, meetings are held by the community and relevant stakeholders, for example, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Campfire seeking to address human and wildlife conflict issues — baboons, elephants, hyenas and lions have been of major concern.
Being omnivorous, baboons always prefer being close to human settlements so that they can scavenge for food remains or invade some of the crops grown in the fields.
Some end up hunting for chickens, kids or lambs due to hunger. Baboons, like human beings are diurnal, and this has made it easy for people to try controlling them. In most communities sharing borders with national parks, people are sometimes seen fighting running battles with the baboons during day time using various techniques ranging from use of scare crows, toy or dead snakes and sling shots in their effort to reduce their devastating effect.
Use of dogs to settle this “historical battle” with baboons has been abandoned as some dogs have fallen victim to these retaliating, and vicious animals.
A number of questions have arisen concerning the importance and protection of these problematic wild animals; do baboons play any ecological, social or economic importance that they need protection? Is there any solution of controlling the nocturnal hyenas? How do elephants know this is the cropping season, and visit our field?
Communities in Ngamo, Ziga or Bonke area in Tsholotsho area sharing borders with the biggest national park in Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park will always ask how elephants jump the fenced boundary and encroach into their fields. The same communities wonder why lions attack their livestock during the day, especially when they graze near the boundary fence dividing the park and the communal area.
As a conservationist, I believe it’s sometimes difficult to recognise the importance of these wild animals especially if they become problematic, as we focus on the problems they bring to human beings. But questions like; If baboons become extinct, what will become of our environment especially to the waste food we throw away? Through their scavenging habit, these animals contribute a lot in cleaning our environment, and the hyenas when they scavenge on carcasses of donkeys or dogs which die in forestry areas.
Scorpion bite cases have been recorded in hospitals and baboons always feed on these creatures therefore, reducing their population. The big question is; by feeding, and reducing the number of scorpions are baboons not solving one of our social problems?
Hyenas, are “klepto parasites”, that is, they sometimes follow lions in their food hunts, and “steal” what has been killed. It’s good that community members know such a behaviour by hyenas so that they take precautionary measures regarding the protection of their livestock. They should know that a successful kill by a lion in their community is sometimes followed by a klepto parasitic animal, the hyena which might also resort to killing stray livestock at night.
It is undisputed that some people have contributed to the devastating effect of livestock attacks by lions and hyenas — especially at night, when they leave their livestock out of kraals.
Hyenas and lions can spot such “easy prey” and they will continuously return as they are assured of successful kills.
Lions sometimes go to an extent of taking advantage of “porous” kraals in communities, in their night hunting missions. A unique hunting technique in which they position themselves in opposite directions of the kraal — one lion will remain on one side of the kraal especially the one with a “porous” point so that it will peep its head through such a point on a livestock scaring mission while the others go the opposite direction of the kraal on a “sit and wait predation position”.
A sudden scare is triggered as the lion peeps its head through the porous point and the whole herd will exert pressure on the other side of the kraal in an effort to seek safety, eventually breaking the kraal rails to the predators’ advantage.
Visits to communal areas by elephants especially during field crops growing period, are due to their good memory.
Elephants have a poor eyesight, but a good sense of smell and memory that they know their seasonal routes, the time they get some of the rare and more succulent grazing plants, for example, maize, sweet reed, sorghum and millet. Wild animals like hyenas, and lions are also good in associating a ringing livestock bell with “easy prey”, hence it becomes easy for these predators to track and kill such prey especially if it is out of the kraal at night. Constructing, and keeping livestock in standard kraals at night reduces livestock attack by wild animals.
Therefore, understanding the behaviour of problematic animals coupled with keeping livestock safe can reduce human and wildlife conflict as precautionary measures can be taken in advance. Communities should be aware that the availability of “easy prey” in the form of livestock for wild animals eventually encourages them to make frequent visits as they are aware of the high potential for successful kills!
-Mahlabezulu Zulu is a conservationist who has worked for various wildlife research, and conservation organisations in Hwange National Parks, and Fuller Forestry in Victoria Falls. He can be contacted on 00263(0)713269827/ 0776196171 or [email protected]