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