Mary Mundeya / Regina Pasipanodya
THE date 15 May 2023, will forever remain etched in the memories of the two brothers.
Around 5am, when the morning breeze had just started to pick up, Stanford Khumalo (32) and Mphekhezeli Moyo (16) had an encounter, which they believe will change the course of their lives. They believe the encounter will result in them having good fortunes, and perhaps, riches as well.
“From a distant, we could hear the dogs barking as we were going to the field to harvest maize, and as usual, we thought that we had our usual visitors. The irritating hyenas have been decimating our livestock for time immemorial, so we were convinced the animals had come again” said Khumalo, who was thrilled to share the most amazing experience in his lifetime.
Communities facing the brunt of Human-wildlife conflict.
Khumalo and Moyo live in Maheba Peace and Goodhope Village 1 in Solusi, a community that has become accustomed to hyenas killing their livestock. Human wildlife conflict is common in the area, because of hyenas which roam freely in the area.
It was therefore not surprising that the first thing that came to their minds when they heard the dogs barking was that they had an unwanted guest in their neighborhood targeting their livestock.
However, on this day, it was different.
The two brothers encountered one of the most-shy and extremely rare mammals in their maize field.
It was their first encounter with a pangolin.
“We were dumb struck,” said Khumalo looking at his younger, as if he was urging him, to express how he also felt the moment they saw a pangolin.
Moyo, caught the sign and chipped in: “I couldn’t believe my eyes. In front of me was an animal that we have always heard is associated with riches and fortune. So I believe that our fate was decided that day and one day it is going to be fulfilled.”
Serious threats facing pangolins in Zimbabwe.
Very few people have seen a live pangolin.
A pangolin is a nocturnal and solitary mammal that has a full armour of scales covering its body. It lives in forests and grasslands.
In Zimbabwe, pangolins are facing a serious threat from poaching and illegal trade, driven by the high demand for their scales and meat in Asia.
The most prevalent species of the pangolin in Zimbabwe is the Temminck’s Ground which is commonly found in Chimanimani, Hwange, and Gonarezhou. It prefers areas with grasslands, woods and easy access to water.
Although little is known about its situation in the wild, the pangolin population is believed to be declining.
When Khumalo and Moyo found the rare species in their field, they did not know what to do with it.
“My heart was pounding with mixed feelings. I was confused and did not know what we were supposed to do with it,” Khumalo said.
“All I knew was that leaving the poor mammal there was not an option. It was just not safe to leave it out there, so we quickly wrapped it up with our jackets and took it home for safekeeping until we found a way of notifying national parks officials,” said Khumalo.
Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in Zimbabwe and the world.
According to the Zimbabwe Republic Police, at least 82 people were arrested last year alone while police recovered 17 pangolins and over 1 000 kilogrammes of pangolin scales.
Also in May, four people were arrested by detectives and Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority rangers for selling a pangolin in Chipinge for USD25 000.
In a similar case, three people were arrested by detective in Bulawayo after being found in possession of a live pangolin that they wanted to sell for USD7 000. They were rounded up in the middle of the ‘transaction’. The three claimed that they had picked the live pangolin in the forests near Solusi, Bulilima.
Despite many cases of trafficking, Zimbabwe is counted among countries with the strictest laws against pangolin poaching in Africa. The animals are specially protected under the country’s Parks and Wildlife Act, and illegally possessing or dealing in them attracts a prison sentence of up to 12 years.
But the demand for pangolin products in Asia, especially China, remains high and poses a serious threat to the survival of the species.
In Zimbabwe, pangolins used to be spared from over-hunting thanks to an unusual cultural practice by the indigenous Shona people who hold the pangolin in high regard.
The animal is rare and has never been seen in some areas, heightening the mythical quality of this reclusive animal.
“We heard that seeing a pangolin is a sign of fortune, said Mrs Khumalo, the mother of the two boys adding; “I hope that this truth will pass for my boys”.
Her children have been ecstatic since the day they found the pangolin believing that by just having an encounter with the animal; their destiny has been decided.
They will have a great fortune, they believe.
Khumalo and Moyo’s intervention is thanks to Amos Gwema, who has dedicated his life to saving pangolins and other animals, which are threatened by extinction.
The brothers called a number that they got through during a programme on Skyz Metro FM: “If you see something; say something and do something.”
“When we called the number, the authorities (parks officials) came right away,” said Khumalo.
Community Intervention to protect wildlife.
Gwema has made the protection of wildlife his core business educating villagers, especially those living near national parks about the importance of animals.
For his efforts, he scooped a Tusk African Award in 2021.
In an interview with She Corresponds Africa, Gwema said, “To prevent further declining of animals due to retaliation of people affected by severe HWC, I have introduced an initiative under the banner, ‘Converting Community Attitudes Towards Wildlife Conservation in Zimbabwe and Beyond” in communities around Matopos National Park, Hwange National Park, and Chizarira National Park.
“We are moving under the slogan, “If you see something; say something and do something,” he said.
Gwema has been engaging communities as the first line of defence for effective wildlife conservation.
“Therefore, most communities in Hwange and other areas have been educated and informed that whenever they come across a wild animal they should protect it from any form of danger and then report it to the authorities whilst keeping it in their custody.
“When Khumalo and Moyo picked up the pangolin, they took it home and contacted the authorities. The authorities were quick to respond and provided a safe box for its safekeeping,” said Gwema.
Gwema has also been working with other stakeholders such as the Zimparks, Tikki Hywood, as well as ex-wildlife convicts.
“To motivate people in different communities toward wildlife conservation, any person who had done a good deed for the wildlife are given a token of appreciation in a form of a grocery voucher, T-shirts, or wildlife text-books for school children,” he said.
Recently, communities have been engaged through Wildlife conservation clubs by hosting soccer matches, awareness campaigns, and arts festivals among other things.