Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
WE THANK God the Russian tourist who was severely injured by an elephant in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Livingstone is recuperating well.
The Russian tourist met his fate while he was taking pictures of elephants and attempted to scare them away.
The 27-year-old Dimitri Siminov is out of danger because none of his bones were broken during the attack.
This was a very unfortunate incident because the country needs all the tourists to generate the much needed foreign exchange to create jobs as well as service the social sector.
Such incidents, which happen once in a while in Livingstone, the country’s tourist capital, have a danger of discouraging other tourists – both local and foreign – from visiting our country.
Some tourists may think that the country is failing to manage the elephants or that there are no tour guides to help the tourists as they go about their visiting.
Yet, the misfortune that befell the Russian tourist, just like others before him, has more to do with curiosity.
WWF Zambia – Silowana landscape project coordinator Conrad Muyaule says tourists are always warned but due to excitement and wanting to get the best shot, they get too close with flashing cameras, which annoys the elephants. “It’s difficult to manage adults who want to take a risk. It’s purely the problem of tourists,” Mr Muyaule says.
He says in other areas it is easy to restrict tourists’ movements by ensuring they move with a guide all the time.
“But Livingstone is a town you can’t have guides move with tourists all the time. It’s in those moments such as going to town unguided when they see elephants and get too close. Sadly, you can’t be showing videos of elephants killing a human,” Mr Muyaule says.
Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) director Paul Zyambo says elephants in Livingstone are migratory. They migrate between Zambia and Zimbabwe and sometimes Botswana.
There are about 200 elephants.
According to the data from non-profit Elephants Without Borders (EWB), satellite tracking tags deployed on elephants in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and along the border of Angola and Zimbabwe have revealed that the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), formally established in 2011, represents the world’s largest transboundary wildlife corridors.
The data from these tags have identified elephant corridors, migration paths and vacant habitats that could reduce negative impacts resulting from an increasing elephant population coming into contact with an increasing human population.
Mr Zyambo says usually, tourists want to be close to the animals to get pictures.
“Tourists are guided but usually tourists do this on their own without a tour guide or an escort officer. One of the solutions is for all lodge owners and tour guides to sensitise all tourists they host immediately they arrive,” Mr Zyambo says.
EWB says there is now a critical urgency to conserve and safeguard these important identified ecological linkages that wildlife species are using to emigrate between countries.
If the corridors are compromised where elephants and other wildlife do not have safe passage across political boundaries, then one of the natural solutions to manage and maintain the largest population on the continent will be seriously threatened.
Last month, an Elephant heads of State summit was convened by Botswana’s president Mokgweetsi Masisi and attended by Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu and Emerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe.
The summit was aimed at providing a platform to deliberate on issues and options including proposing recommendations for management of the region’s elephant population.
The summit gave the delegates an update on elephants, human-elephant conflict and legal and illegal killing for trade in ivory.
The summit developed a framework for international engagement on matters related to elephant conservation and management.
Botswana convened the summit in response to the escalating challenges confronting elephant conservation and management in the region.
“For us, the Kasane meeting was very important in that it provided harmony in conservation of elephants and wildlife at large. We need to maintain the connectivity of the national parks. For example, in Sioma National Park (Zambia) we don’t hunt elephants but when the same elephants we protect here cross into Botswana, they can be hunted,” Mr Muyaule said.
Probably, lodge owners ought to convene an urgent meeting to discuss the safety of foreign tourists to mitigate the human – animal conflict.
Foreign tourists should be sensitised about elephants’ sensitivity to camera flashes.
The safety of tourists should be of paramount importance.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.
Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO