Habitat loss in Zimbabwe

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Politics, drought, climate change - and the poaching crisis - have created a perfect storm for black rhinos in Zimbabwe. A combination of these factors mean that humans and rhinos in the Lowveld region are having to share increasingly small areas of available land. 

The Lowveld Rhino Trust monitors and manages rhinos living in Zimbabwe's Save and Bubye Valley Conservancies; protected areas for wildlife. Situated in south-eastern Zimbabwe, the Save-Limpopo area is collectively known as the Lowveld. The Lowveld region covers 755,000 hectares and, at one time, was one of Africa's most exciting conservation success stories.

The Save Valley was created in 1992 to create a safe haven for wildlife in the region. Previously used by its land owners primarily for cattle ranching, its semi-arid landscape is more suited to wildlife than livestock or agriculture and so was effectively rewilded for rhinos, with black rhinos reintroduced from the Zambezi Valley in Zambia and land fenced off. 

Fast forward to 2016, and the Lowveld is home to one of the most important black rhino populations on the continent with a strong breeding performance. But rhinos in the Lowveld are also under increasing pressure from poachers and the growing number of settlements appearing in areas previously safeguarded for wildlife. 

Land for wildlife has been turned over for subsistence farming.

El Nino has brought the worst drought to southern Africa in 35 years, and significant food insecurity. Unplanned villages have also cropped up in the wake of the government's Fast Track Land Reform policy from 2000 with the knock-on effect of increased conflict between humans and wildlife, and predators and livestock. In the Lowveld, villages are reporting predators attacking livestock, and elephants trampling crops. Poaching for bush meat and rhino horn is increasing, and the transmission of disease between wildlife and livestock is also increasing as protective fencing is taken down.

 

Where human settlements have sprung up, forest cover has been cut down to make space for agriculture and livestock. In the short-term, farmers burn trees to try and increase soil fertility. But long-term, the ecology of the region will struggle to support subsistence farming and rhinos will lose more and more habitat. If the Lowveld loses its black rhinos, then the community will also lose future opportunities to truly benefit from wildlife: including the potential for sustainable eco-tourism. 

Degraded land

Protecting black rhinos and inspiring communities comes hand in hand and that's why this Christmas we are raising funds for the Great Land Share Project in Zimbabwe.

This new initiative will help support the local community living near rhinos in the Lowveld to get behind their wildlife. As well as looking after the region's rhinos, the project will train local people to become Wildlife Guardians, and educate their families, friends and entire community about how to live alongside rhinos and prosper. 

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