Spike in wildlife attacks flags up loss of Zimbabwe's forests

28 April 2014

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Whether it’s buffalo attacks in the tourism hotspot of Victoria Falls, maulings by lions and cheetahs in Hwange, or hyenas roaming populated areas in Chipinge district, an apparent escalation of the conflict between humans and wild animals is unsettling Zimbabweans.

Scarcely a week has gone by this year without media reports of people being attacked by animals. Researchers say the incidents are a consequence of shrinking wildlife habitats, at a time when the country’s reforestation efforts are on the back burner.

Despite the observation of Tree Planting Day every December, there are concerns that progress is being countered by rapid deforestation as people seek new land for homes and farming.

According to data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, Zimbabwe has around 15.6 million hectares of forest. Much of this is sparse, dry or open canopy forest, with only 5 percent classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest. Between 1990 and 2010, Zimbabwe lost 29.5 percent of its forest cover, an average of 327,000 hectares per year.

Experts also blame the wildlife problem on Zimbabwe’s post-2000 agrarian reform programme, which allowed former combatants in the 1970s war of liberation to settle in areas not previously designated for human habitation.

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