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Hwange Engages Sporting Activities to Raise Awareness on Wildlife Conservation

Wildlife conservationists say using sports activities on conservation awareness campaigns is cheaper and has a high positive impact. Image by Carmine Visuals

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | SEPT 29, 2022

In Hwange, wildlife conservationists are using sports activities as a social setup for communities to promote conservation awareness—an initiative which has the potential to yield significant results such as reporting poaching and enhancing anti-poaching patrols.

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — It is late afternoon in Makwandara village in Dete in Matabeleland North where villagers have gathered at an open space to watch a football match.

Soccer teams from different villages surrounding the Hwange National Park are competing on the day to win the league championship title.

The league is sponsored by Wild and Free Foundation (WFF) in partnership with the Painted Dogs Conservation (PDC), a wildlife conservation organisation operating in the Hwange National Park.

The league is named the 'Rhino Cup Champions League Zimbabwe (RCCL) to reflect the partnership.

“It was observed that there is a need to raise more awareness of wildlife crime and conservation through sport,” says Trymore Masuku, a wildlife conservationist at a local safari company in Hwange.

“But, through sports like soccer, the interaction is high and efficient.”

As Masuku says, the league tournament brings together villagers, wildlife conservationists and game rangers to raise awareness on wildlife conservation in Hwange district.

It is a new trend where wildlife conservationists’ groups across the globe are using sporting events to promote conservation awareness, encourage wildlife and environmental stewardship practices.

One such organisation is the Korup Rainforest Conservation Society (KRCS) in southwest Cameroon’s Korup National Park that has been using sporting events to raise awareness on wildlife conservation to protect its rich biodiversity.

“To win the war against poaching, human/wildlife conflict and to succeed in the conservation efforts, people must be engaged in solutions. The very community must have been seen active through consultation,” says Masuku.

In Matabeleland North, human wildlife conflict is rife as wild animals especially elephants storm villagers destroying crops and even trampling people to death.

According to Permanent Information Secretary Nick Mangwana, 60 people were killed by elephants between January and May 2022.

Human wildlife conflict is rife as wild animals especially elephants storm villagers destroying crops and even trampling people to death. Image by Unsplash

As authorities grapple with human-wildlife conflict, another headache they have to contend with are rising cases of poaching with locals used as runners for sophisticated syndicates.

In a report, the PDC and WFF say boredom, idleness, and poverty are some of the contributing factors to becoming a poacher.

“RCCL Zimbabwe addresses these factors by supporting and sponsoring the sports communities love - football - helping save wildlife and people,” the report says.

Experts say it is important to build relationships based on trust, reciprocity and exchange through sporting activities.

“Unlike many of the engagements, some which need more financial resources, soccer needs fewer resources, yet the impact on conservation is high. Cases of poaching are decreasing,” adds Masuku.

Most of the participating teams are named after the animals, an initiative which gives a sense of ownership of the animals by the communities.

A villager Tatenda Mhere says soccer games are interactive.

“At first we were afraid of the game rangers and patrol members; it was scary to see them in green uniforms carrying guns,” Mhere says.

“However, these soccer games have changed our mind-set. In our simple but similar jerseys we can laugh and clap hands as friends to show that we have one thing in common.”

Khumbulani Nyoni, a tourism guide, says sporting events benefit the development and economy of local communities by promoting the protection of wildlife resources including ecological and economic sustainability.

“Soccer gives a social setup whereby we share information and teach villagers about all animals, especially elephants,” Nyoni says.

“In most cases villagers become interested and volunteer to be part of the anti-poaching patrols and other conservation activities.”

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The PDC has been sponsoring the Iganyana football league for the past 15 years.

“Over the years, the league yielded significant results in reporting poaching activities, reporting painted dog sightings and supporting community-based initiatives such as clean-up campaigns and borehole repairs,” says PDC in a statement.

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