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BLOG July 20, 2016

Bad Neighbours - Coming face to face with Human-Wildlife Conflict

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How many people would love to live in the countryside, surrounded by nature and wildlife? It’s an idyllic idea – Waking up to the sounds of birds, going to sleep without traffic noise, maybe spotting wildlife from your terrace. And how much more exciting, when your house in the country is in South Africa, and the wildlife you see might include giraffe, zebra and antelope, and the sounds you fall asleep to are the buzzing of zikada and the call of hyena! Many of us would give an arm and a leg for that lifestyle. Sadly, that expression is all too close to the truth when it comes to how the wildlife pays for sharing a neighbourhood with humans.

If you choose a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre or a Wildlife Veterinary Experience for your conservation placement, you are likely to help treat the victims of human-wildlife conflict. In the last edition of our Bushwire newsletter we reported on the plight of vultures due to farmers and local communities leaving poisoned carcasses in the field. While predators are the main target, vultures will “clean up” the carcasses, as it is their nature to do. The effect on vulture populations has been severe, but the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre are doing their bit to protect vultures by establishing a vulture restaurant – a safe place for vultures to feed on unpoisoned meat. duiker hit by car

In the last few weeks, our wildlife vets and rehabilitation volunteers have dealt with a lot of wildlife casualties! In June, Moholoholo saw another wildlife victim of human actions: A honey badger was caught in a snare and suffered horrendous injuries to its abdomen, where the snare bit deep. The team were able to remove the snare and dedicated volunteers have been looking after the badger and aiding his recovery for the last few weeks. While he has a way to go yet, the wounds are healing very well! In the picture on the left you can see how badly the snare was embedded, while the picture on the right shows the wound all clean and mostly closed.

Poisoning and snares are particularly gruesome manifestations of human-wildlife conflict. There have also been plenty of “accidental” victims in June and July, and each story is quite telling of the problems that arise when humans and wildlife share habitat.

Car accidents are all too often the cause of injuries to wildlife: Cars, roads and wildlife just don’t mix very well! In the first week of July the Protrack Anti-Poaching Unit brought a little duiker to the clinic. It had been in a collision with a car and sustained injuries to its back leg, which needed cleaning and stitching. In a similar case, a member of the public brought a lizzard buzzard to Moholoholo the very same week. The buzzard seemed stunned and wasn’t able to fly. Since it showed no obvious injuries, the likely conclusion was that it too had been hit by a car and had suffered a concussion. A few days’ rest and some anti-inflammatories had the desired effect, and the buzzard has been released back into the wild.

Aside from car accidents and aggressive actions like poisoning and snares, the mere presence of farming infrastructure can be hazardous to wildlife. Old fencing can cause serious injuries, as wildlife becomes entangled in it. Last week Dr Duplessis and the ACE students freed an eland bull from wires that had wrapped around his head. In a more complicated case, wildlife veterinarian Dr Rogers and his team were called on to dart an elephant from a helicopter so they could remove the frame of a wheelbarrow that got wedged around its right front leg.

It’s not always the wildlife on the receiving end though! A couple of weeks ago students with Dr Duplessis helped patch up a dog after a warthog mauled him. In fact, all the wildlife vets are very familiar with injuries to dogs that are inflicted by wildlife: Baboon bites and snake bites are common cases.

So how can you help? By joining a Wildlife Veterinary Experience or a Wildlife Care and Rehabilitation project you would be actively involved in the treatment of animals that are harmed in human-wildlife conflict.

If you think “prevention is better than cure” there are three projects that we partner with that do excellent work on that front:

  • The Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage runs the EPIC programme: Environmental Protection Involving Children. Every year they visit numerous schools in Zimbabwe to get children excited about wildlife and to teach them how to co-exist. This is one of the most effective ways to prevent manifestations of human-wildlife conflict that are based on misunderstanding: Often snakes are killed because they are mistaken for poisonous types, and animals like chameleons are killed by villagers because of superstitions attached to them.
  • The Naankuse Namibia Predator Research project and the Mangetti Wild Dog & Elephant Protection project both work towards reducing human-wildlife conflict. They research the movement and behaviour of leopard, cheetah, hyena, wild dog and elephants to anticipate and prevent conflict with the local farming communities.

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