Always looking for animals

Sam, Katy, and Noggs in Africa

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Predators, people and politics in Zimbabwe

What happens when areas that are home to large numbers of carnivores suddenly become occupied by high density human populations and their livestock?  This is exactly what I set out to determine in my PhD thesis, entitled The impact of land reform in Zimbabwe on the conservation of cheetahs and other large carnivores.  Since the thesis was recently passed, Katy and I headed up to Zimbabwe to disseminate some results.  The full version can be downloaded from here, but below is the abridged version of the findings:


If you hadn’t noticed, large carnivores are having a bit of a tough time.  Many species are declining as the human population grows and develops a increasing area of the Earth’s surface.  Cheetahs in particular have declined by over 90% over the past century, and the bulk of the remaining population can now be found in countries in east Africa and southern Africa, such as Zimbabwe.


Zimbabwe used to be a conservation success story, with important populations depending on private land in addition to formally protected areas.  In 2000, however, the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme was initiated, which resulted in most private land being “resettled” and converted to small-scale agriculture. This led to a number of socio-economic problems such as hyperinflation, food shortages, disease outbreaks and a fall in life expectancy, but no one had yet conducted a systematic study of the effects on wildlife conservation. My study used spoor (track) counts, animal sightings and aerial survey data to investigate how Zimbabwe’s land reform programme had influenced the conservation of large carnivores, focusing on the cheetah. I also used interviews to determine how the human dimension of human-carnivore conflict was influenced by land reform.


The bottom line was that the remaining private land still maintained relatively healthy wildlife populations, but large carnivores and their wild prey were very rare or absent on land that had been resettled. If these findings are representative of the country as a whole, this suggests that carnivore populations have declined steeply over the past decade.  The land reform programme resulted in people with positive attitudes towards carnivores being replaced by people with negative attitudes.  Resettlement farmers reported very high perceived levels of livestock predation by large carnivores, and a number of people had been killed by wild animals in the resettlement areas, explaining their negative attitudes.  From a human-wildlife conflict perspective, the land reform programme resulted in a lose-lose situation for carnivores and for people.  The thesis sets out recommendations on how these problems can be mitigated, and recommends against the Zimbabwean model of land reform being considered by other countries such as South Africa.  My next job is to get these results published…



The paper version is a bit expensive to reproduce so I handed out copies on CD


Handing out copies of the thesis to stakeholders at the study site

Prezi summarising the results


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Angry hula hooping at the Drunken Monkey

One of our Research Assistants, Sune, is leaving tomorrow. So Camilla and Sune decided to throw a cocktail party. During a night in the forest taking data on samangos they dreamt up a comprehensive list of imaginative cocktails with names like the bad bushbaby, the Lajuma sunrise and the zonkey nut.


They transformed the barn into the Drunken Monkey bar and bought a wide array of spirits and mixers.


After a number of drinking games including one where you have to talk without showing your teeth, we had hula hooping lessons from Sune.  Sam looks very very angry while hula hooping!!


Towards the end of the night Camilla decided it was time for bed but then perked up again for a final round of drunken hula hooping.



Back to Bobwe

Me & Katy just returned from a trip north of the border.  We went to Katy’s friend’s wedding, visited friends and disseminated results from my PhD.  This was our first visit since we left the country in 2009, and we were excited to find out what (if anything) had changed over the past 3 years.

The first thing that struck us were the changes. When Katy left the currency was still the hyperinflationary Zim Dollar. Inflation reached millions of per cent and we had to queue for hours to withdraw our daily limit which generally amounted to a few US$. We would then prowl around Bulawayo in search of something to buy with our bricks of cash before the price doubled. I remember getting quotes over the phone for parts for cheetah traps and when asking for today’s price being told “It depends what time you get here.” Now the Zim dollar has been replaced by the US dollar. As a result inflation had calmed down and it is easier for businesses to operate, and the supermarkets are now brimming with things to buy rather than being empty.

This change was echoed at the petrol stations. When Katy left the notion of turning up at a petrol station, even with foreign currency, and expecting to be able to buy fuel was a pipe dream. You had to have connections. Now that’s exactly what happens. The signs still present at petrol stations still belie this history, and rather than displaying the price next to petrol and diesel simply say ‘yes’.

There was also much that hadn’t changed, which was both good and bad. Power cuts are still a daily occurrence for many people. Despite the power sharing agreement, little seems to have changed politically. There was palpable excitement of many that we met at the rumours that President Mugabe may be on his death bed, only for them to be dismayed when it appeared to be a false alarm.  The Fast Track Land Reform Programme still continues apace (see next post), and people continue to be intimidated and oppressed. And poor. And sick. One of the saddest aspects of visiting people here was the dreaded list of people that had died since we left, mainly of HIV/AIDS.

But many of the things that had not changed were welcome, at least to me. It was refreshing to get back to real Africa, away from the development of South Africa. Road signs were still hand painted, and scotch carts (donkey or ox powered carts) were still considered a viable form of transport. Importantly, Zimbabweans continue to be the most optimistic, hard working and persistent people on the planet.

We hope that next time we visit that the good things continue and a few of the things that need to change show some improvement.


A few US dollars equivalent in Zim dollars in 2007, and a dirty US dollar bill in 2012.


Before and after shots of the same supermarket aisle in 2007 and 2012.




Robert Mugabe way. Every town should have one.  And pretty much every town in Zimbabwe does.


Millions of Zimbabweans fled to South Africa.  Sadly they are often the target of xenophobic attacks, as seen in this graffiti near where we live in South Africa.



The road signs could use a lick of paint