MAPUTO, Jun 20 (IPS) - A battle is
raging throughout the African sub-continent between subsistence
farmers, usually the
of the region, and game parks over crop destruction wrought by
hungry wild animals.
A wart hog doesn't recognise property, only food,” says Sam
Kunene, a farmer in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.
To a buffalo or other foraging animal, there's no difference between
a herb that grows wild in the bush and a stalk of maize, except the
latter is more tasty,” says Sipho Vilane, a game ranger in
As for elephants, they can destroy a farmer's field in minutes. Sometimes
it isn't even food they are after. They can just be destructive,” Vilane
It is not a new battle, but for millions
of peasant farmers, it is a matter of life and livelihood. Game
animals are wild, and
movements are not restricted they will wander outside the parametres
of parks and into neighbouring communities. Their agenda is simply
to find new supplies of food.
It is a worrying problem for the area's
proliferating number of game parks, which depend on the good will
I totally sympathise with a farmer who sees his entire crop wiped
out by animals,” Ted Reilly, Swaziland's top nature conservationists
and founder of the country's park system, told IPS. ”How is
he going to feed his family?”
Farmers living near game parks
have little recourse but to guard their fields, and scare away
game animals when they appear.
It is not easy to scare an elephant,” Kunene says.
are hamstrung by tough game protection laws that make it a crime
to kill protected species. While sympathetic to his neighbours'
plight, game park owner Reilly recommended that they contact the
park, so that game rangers might capture the runaway animals. Farmers
complain they have no phones, and by the time rangers would arrive,
crop damage would already be inflicted.
It only takes minutes. Often the animals arrive at night, when we
are asleep. When we get up in the morning, we see our maize is gone,” Kunene
In Kenya, the authorities have been
responding to the farmers' pleas. This year, Kenya game wardens
have shot dead at least ten
last year they shot two, and farmers killed another 10.
private developers are being encouraged to purchase the animals
to prevent clashes with peasants.
'Farmers versus the myriad
members of the African menagerie' has been a theme for a century.
In the first half of the 1900s, wild
animals were shot as ”pests”, and whole areas were cleared
of animals in preparation of land cultivation by white farmers and
large-scale agricultural enterprises. In Swaziland, professional
hunters were used to clear the lowveld of thousands of herds of animals,
to make way for sugar plantations.
Bounties were offered for African
buffalo and antelope when diseases like rinderpest were rampant.
Cattle owners feared diseases that
spread in the wild would infect their herds.
Today, large herds of
wild animals are worth their weight in tourist gold. Most foreign
visitors to Southern Africa flock to Tanzania's
Serengeti, Botswana's Central Kalahari or South Africa's Kruger
National Park to see the Big Five - elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard
- and other game animals in their native habitats.
What were once 'pests' are now big business,” Reilly said.
Last year 9,000 foreign tourists hunted
34,000 animals in South Africa, turning the country's booming hunting
industry into an R800-million-a-year
(about 107 million U.S. dollars) foreign exchange earner, according
to official statistics.
Hunting is also popular in Zimbabwe.
Last year Zimbabwe earned about
30 million U.S. dollars from sport hunting at its wildlife safari
areas, up from 22 million U.S. dollars
in 2001, according to the country's department of national parks
and wildlife management.
Tanzania, too, offers good sport hunting
for foreigners. Between 1989 and 1993 the government revenue from
the hunting industry increased
from around 2.5 million U.S. dollars to 7.4 million U.S. dollars.
In 2002, the government earned 9.3 million U.S. dollars from tourist
hunting, says Tanzania's ministry of natural resources and tourism.
In 2003, it is no longer big agriculture
that is concerned with wild animals, which have been hunted to
extinction in most parts of the
sub-continent. Now it is another endangered species, the small
landholding or peasant farmer, who must contend with the growing
Tourism operators have governments
on their side in the fight to protect game animals. Southern African
nations look to tourism as
a perfect sustainable growth industry. Tourism draws in hard currency,
helps national debts and balance of payment worries, and provides
the incentive for protect the environment.
Game parks are growing
in number by several dozen a year throughout the region, as are
nature reserves, national parks and government-protected
ecosystems. At the same time, national populations are growing.
More farmers are in competition for agrarian land. They are being
into marginal areas, and are exploiting lands near game parks where
no cultivation had been undertaken before.
One game park ranger who
chose not to give his name, though he said his views are shared
by other park workers and environmentalists,
said, ”The little family farms add nothing to the economy.
They cannot create food for a whole year for the family. People still
need town jobs to bring in cash. But these farms are damaging to
The ranger also noted that some park
fencing is stolen by neighbours. ”They
don't use it to fence their fields, which they need to do if they
are complaining about warthogs. They just sell it,” he said.
Reilly warned that farmers whose fields
are damaged have a right to file a claim with a park, and an investigation
would be conducted
to see whether game animals were responsible. ”But they mustn't
become vigilantes, and start killing protected species. This has
been done in the past as an excuse for poaching, and the perpetrators
just get into trouble,” Reilly said.
told IPS that the way out of the dilemma is to involve the communities
around game parks in the park operations.
Rather than damage the environment with a growing number of unprofitable
little farms to accommodate the population boom, some communities
have pooled their land resources, and started their own game parks.
Community-owned game parks are growing in popularity,” said
Simaye Mamba, of Swaziland's National Trust Commission, which runs
two game parks. ”We have several in this country. They are
raising the standard of living for community members, by providing
jobs. They are unique cultural tourism attractions. Guests can visit
homesteads to see how Africans live,” Mamba said.