Making people count
For example, villagers of Masoka Ward in Guruve District recently attended a WWF-supported workshop designed to encourage their active participation in determining quotas for animals that may be culled in the area. This is a complete reversal of the traditional "top-down" approach, in which such decisions are taken at high levels of government.
Provisional quotas are prepared with the villagers' help then proposed to the government's wildlife authority. On approval, the Ward will concede the right to hunt a certain number of animals in its area to a private safari operator whose clients will pay well for their sport. The hunting fees will be paid to the district authorities, who will return a large proportion on to the Ward.
The workshop began by establishing the numbers of animals counted by the villages' game guards over the past two years. These included elephant, buffalo, sable, impala, and waterbuck, and predators such as lions, leopards, hyenas, and crocodiles. These totals were then compared with population trends over the past eight years. Local people are well aware of the importance of quotas, as they have already benefitted from their wildlife. In 1996, the wildlife harvest brought Z$660,817 (US$5,904) to Masoka, and since 1989 a total of Z$2,129,485 (US$388,370) has been earned by the Ward C a considerable sum in this cash-strapped economy.
The villagers were reminded that the safari operator and his clients are not just interested in the quantity of animals, but in "trophy quality" - the size of the animal and the length of its tusks or horns. It is therefore important to ensure that a number of large male animals remain and that any offtake next year does not diminish the number that will enter the "trophy class" the following year.
After explanations of the way the Game Guards' surveys were carried out, the villagers began the business of establishing new quotas. They decided that the quota of male elephants should remain at four but that for females the number should decrease from 15 to 12 as a precautionary measure aimed at maintaining a stable population.
The buffalo population appeared healthy, but trophy quality had slightly decreased. Aware that hunters may go elsewhere if this trend continues, the villagers dropped the quota for males but decided the female quota could safely be raised. Some of the quota they will hunt themselves, to provide meat for festivals such as Christmas and Independence Day.
The villagers then agreed on some modest quotas that will, nevertheless, bring in substantial cash returns C two male lions, four crocodiles, five sable antelopes, and six hyenas.
They also reviewed the population status of other species, including baboons, monkeys, genets, civets, and game birds. Villagers are worried that there may be too few leopards, so they lowered the leopard quota substantially. To see small-scale farmers vote for measures to increase the leopard population is surprising, but today they appreciate that a leopard in the bush can make more economic sense than a goat in the hand.
This quota-setting workshop is one of several training sessions that the WWF programme will hold in Masoka Ward this year. Others will target those responsible for financial management of wildlife revenues, to ensure cash is handled honestly and ends up in the right hands. There will also be encouragement for farmers to debate broader land-use issues.
The concept of having free-ranging wildlife provide hard cash to rural communities was spreading on the day I spent at the workshop in Masoko. Farmers from KwaZulu Province, South Africa, were attending with a view to starting a community-based resource management project in their own area.
The head of the Ward's Wildlife Committee was proud to explain to the visitors how they used to have problems with poachers stealing animals, but now they are caught and punished by local people.
(714 words)*Alison Wilson is a writer based in Harare