Zimbabwe: bicycles to avoid elephants on the way to school

Zimbabwe: bicycles to avoid elephants on the way to school

Coming across an elephant or a pack of hyenas on the way to school causes many scares, in this corner of north-west Zimbabwe on the edge of a nature reserve. Joaquim Homela, 12 years old, will no longer walk the six kilometers, he has a brand new bike.

Until recently, he hurried, accompanied by his grandmother, to avoid bad encounters. Elephants are the deadliest, especially if they become agitated just after encountering a farmer or herder.

Injuries but also deaths number in the dozens each year. In 2023, another 50 Zimbabweans died and 85 were injured after encountering wild animals.

A figure down compared to previous years but which could rise again: elephants, thirsty by a drought aggravated by the El Nino phenomenon, have traveled greater distances in recent months, increasing the chances of encounters with humans, to find something to drink. , recall those responsible for the Hwange park.

At dawn, Joaquim gets on his black and white bicycle, a gift from an NGO that wants to secure the Mabale villages adjoining the park but also raise awareness of the need for animal conservation.

The teenager can't sit on the saddle, the bike is too big for his frail frame, but his determined pedal strokes betray a palpable excitement, on the uneven and winding gravel road that leads to school.

If elephants appear in the distance, or any other threat, he has time to run much faster to avoid encountering them.

Around a hundred disadvantaged children recently received a bicycle, as part of a joint project between the national parks administration, ZimParks, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Llions prowl

The schoolboy's grandmother, Siphiwe Moyo, is delighted to no longer have to get up at four in the morning to prepare and walk at least part of the route with Joaquim.

“Wild animals, especially elephants and lions, roam around our villages”she emphasizes, and even more often in the early morning. “It’s normal here”so the adults organize rotations so that the children are accompanied.

“We coexist with wild animals, but cases of people killed or injured, by elephants in particular, occur here and there, so we fear for our young people”explains the grandmother.

In this region, villagers also worry about their livestock or donkeys, which are regularly eaten by lions and hyenas.

The director of ZimParks, Fulton Mangwanya, wants to educate villagers about the wonders of wildlife, reducing fear. But also because “ as soon as they no longer see the value of this heritage, you can be sure that the wildlife will be decimated by poaching”he confided to AFP.

Phillip Kuvawoga, from IFAW, also wants to promote harmonious relationships between humans and wildlife and “There is no better way than to invest in children’s education.”

If left unaddressed, human-wildlife conflict poses a serious threat to the well-being of communities and the biodiversity integrity of the Hwange ecosystem”he said.

With ZimParks, its NGO wants “promote coexistence through awareness campaigns and effective interventions, in particular by supporting schoolchildren and setting up innovative enclosures to protect livestock from predators”, he details to AFP.

With an estimated number of 100,000, Zimbabwe has the second largest population of elephants behind Botswana, thanks to conservation efforts. According to ZimParks, this growth continues exponentially and Hwange National Park now has 65,000 elephants, more than four times its carrying capacity.

An aerial census in 2022 in the immense cross-border area of ​​Okavango-Zambezi, on the borders of five countries (Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Angola) counted 227,900 elephants, the largest population of savannah elephants in the world. world.

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