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When animals and humans clash

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KUMCHEDWA—We are also supporting the people

On a warm and peaceful night of September 15, 2022, Smartson Mvula of Mbuzi Village, Sub-Traditional Authority (STA) Nthunduwala in Kasungu, went to sleep after having supper with his family harbouring hope that the next day he would set off early to attend to his garden.

Around midnight, some strange noise outside the house woke him up.

Mvula and fellow villagers were left wondering what would come to the village especially during that odd hour of the quiet night.

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Storming outside, the villagers were met by a herd of elephants and the unanticipated sight sent chills down their spines.

That would not be the last time the animals would terrorise the village.

Being very close to Kasungu National Park, the issue of animal and human conflicts are not a huge surprise.

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Villagers have been poaching in the protected area and some animals have been seen loitering in the villages.

However, it has become a common occurrence that more animals attack humans and their crops right in the villages.

The elephants that came to Nthunduwala left a mark which will always have a place in Mvula’s mind.

A hardworking farmer engaging in winter cropping, Mvula had his garden full of crops like maize, beans, tomatoes and sugarcanes.

“The elephants left me with nothing,” Mvula says. “I have been heavily affected and this field was a source of food during lean period and also source of income I used to support my children with school fees.”

On other three occasions, the elephants came and destroyed all the crops in the garden affecting not only Mvula but other villagers too.

What used to be a field full of different winter crops like sugarcane and maize has now been flattened to the ground by huge feet of the animals.

An individual’s promising two acres of crops were lost to elephants in a month.

Falles Kamanga of Nthipi Village in the same area of Nthunduwala says since the elephants have been breaking out of the park the villagers are now living in fear.

The villagers, who used to wake up early to attend their farm fields, now wait for the sun to rise before they can show up in their fields.

They are usually indoors before darkness falls, a forced lifestyle they never anticipated but have now adopted.

Kamanga and other villagers believe that focus by national park officials is on animals and not humans.

“When we complain we are not helped, and they say they cannot help each and every one of us whose property was damaged by the animals,” Kamanga says.

Nthunduwala shares a boundary with a large part of Kasungu National Park to the west of Kasungu District.

Kasungu National Park, covering 2,100 square kilometres (km) of natural woodland and bush with occasional stretches of more open grass, has different species of animals including elephants and buffaloes, two of the much touted big five.

In July 2022, some 263 elephants were translocated from Majete Game Reserve to Kasungu National Park about 350km away.

The exercise included additional 431 other wild animals and was supported by International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).

The addition of wildlife species to the national park was a boost to the tourism industry, but then it also meant that there was need for additional measures to check the animals from escaping.

There is a perimeter electric wire fence at the park but the stretch only ends at a distant Vinthenga Village, making animals find a way of escaping.

STA Nthunduwala admits that the elephants in the park are a terror to his village and that the fact that people are losing crops and lives makes it a very big problem in the area.

So far two people from the area have lost lives.

The traditional leader believes with the introduction of more animals in the park there was need to have increased staff to manage because animals come out in different herds.

“I cherish the relationship which is there between the national park and the community as when we tell them animals have escaped they come quickly to control them. However, it seems rangers are not enough,” the chief says.

Director of Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa says they are doing their best to manage the animals in Kasungu National Park.

Kumchedwa says there is a team of trained rangers who drive elephants back into the park when they wander out of the reserve and that extending the electric fence is underway.

“So far 40km is done and there will be construction of additional 25km,” Kumchedwa says.

Kumchedwa says the current breakout of elephants is not strange as the animals are trying to settle down in their new home and, therefore, engage in a lot of movements.

He adds that the other reason is that the park is dry in most parts and that the animals move around in search of water and food.

For Mvula and Kamanga, their perception is that there is too much focus on the plight of wild animals than on humans.

The villagers believe that when a person is found poaching they are caught and fined while when animals destroy the peoples’ property no compensation is given and the matter ends there.

Kumchedwa denies the assertions: “Our focus is on both people and animals; that is why we have constructed 40km of the boundary fence already and we are also supporting the people with livelihood programmes.”

Malawi’s laws governing wildlife say nothing on the issue of compensation when wild animals escape from their designated habitats and cause problems in communities around the reserves.

Meanwhile, Kasungu District Council has included victims of the animals’ terror on the list of those who receive relief food and other items for a period of three months after they lost their crops.

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