Electric fence for Vic Falls dumpsite. . . 8 elephants dead from consuming plastics
Eight elephants have died so far this year from eating too much plastic waste at the Victoria Falls dumpsite, according to Environment Africa

Eight elephants have died so far this year from eating too much plastic waste at the Victoria Falls dumpsite, according to Environment Africa

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
THE Victoria Falls receives over one million visitors each year, but the large quantity of waste left behind is beginning to kill the wildlife they come to see.

Eight elephants have died so far this year from eating too much plastic waste at the Victoria Falls dumpsite, according to Environment Africa, a local environment charity organisation.

Worried that the open dump could lead to more deaths, Environment Africa are now leading a campaign to raise $50 000 to help build a solar-powered fence around the site.

“The fence will surround the dumpsite and will not be harmful to the animals,” said Charlene Hewit, chief executive Environment Africa, by email.

“The electric fence will give them a shock.” It is not known how much distance the fence will cover.

But an electric fence of this nature will likely run on a potential energy of 5 000 volts, using heavy aluminium wire, says Trevor Shumbamhini, an electronics engineer.

It can work on two fronts, he says, — a solar-powered fence energiser with in-built battery, or one with a separate external battery, depending on circumstances. Both can supply power for extended periods when the sun is not shining. The energiser is an electric device that controls the amount of electrical shock sent through the fence from the power source, in this case, the battery.

With that much energy, the electric fence is built not so much as to harm the animal but to send a little warning shock.

Shocked once, the animal begins to recognise the danger around a specific area to avoid a second dance.

By using solar, Environment Africa have circumvented Zimbabwe’s existing sharp power shortages. But there is still one more problem of which to be wary.

“One of the issues with the fence that has to be taken care of is that people do not come and steel the wire and use that for snares for poaching,” warned Mrs Hewit.

“We have linked up with the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VAPU), who are going to assist with the anti-poaching around the area and protection of the fence.”

Waste nightmare

Like much of urban Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls has experienced rapid development and population growth.

Its population has risen three-fold in the past two decades to 33 000 in 2012, according to Government data.

And again like everyone else, the town has struggled to manage the 3 300 tonnes of solid waste generated each year by its residents, businesses and the millions of tourists that flock to see the world famous waterfall, Victoria Falls, and to see the abundant wildlife. Across Zimbabwe, towns and cities produce over 614 000 tonnes of solid waste annually, a quarter of it plastic, says the Environmental Management Agency.

Only 52 percent of the waste is ever collected and properly disposed by municipalities. The rest is either burnt, buried underground or dumped anywhere. In Victoria Falls, the dumping congregates at an open vast space on the edge of town. And with its diversity of waste — food left overs, metal cans, plastic packaging etc — the dump has become an animal’s paradise, conservationists say.

Food comes easy at this garbage rendezvous, like manna from heaven. Several animal species — from baboons to elephants — forage there.

“There are resident elephants who have been patrolling around Victoria Falls for some time now,” said Mrs Hewit.

“They find it easier to come and eat at the dumpsite. They come during the evenings mostly.”

The Victoria Falls municipality has dismissed the claims as false.

“We are not aware of elephants that have died in the Victoria Falls from eating plastic from the town’s dumpsite,” charged Lot Syatimbula, the town’s director for housing and community services, by telephone.

“Does an elephant eat plastic at all? Where exactly did these deaths occur, when? Victoria Falls is a small town we would know even when one elephant dies. Some of these non-governmental organisation tend to be sensational.”

Death within days

It is not easy to put down a 6-tonne adult elephant, but plastic does that within days if consumed to excess, according to veterinary experts.

From fruit to tree leaves to tree bark, the elephant diet is diverse — and so is the strength of its digestive system — but plastic isn’t just an option, they say.

“I have yet to actually do a post-mortem on any of the elephants . . . but if the plastic consumed is very huge, death could occur within a few days, possibly a week,” explained Dr Chris Foggin, a veterinary surgeon with the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust.

“If it is accumulation of large numbers of small pieces of plastic that somehow got together to make a big piece of obstruction in the intestines, it (death) could take months.”

Caroline Washaya Moyo, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority, did not respond to questions emailed to her.

There are more than 80 000 elephants in Zimbabwe — one of the world’s biggest herd— with over 50 percent of the endangered animal concentrated in the Hwange-Victoria Falls area, authorities say.

As Environment Africa presses on with its electric fence plan, with a website to mobilise funding already running, the Victoria Falls municipality has also begun to look at better ways of managing its waste.

According to Mr Syatimbula, the town is finalising tenders for the construction of an 8-cell landfill.

The mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments — evaluations of a project’s potential ecological impact — have been completed, he said.

Dumpsites are open areas where waste is disposed randomly, but the landfill is designed and monitored with care. With the landfill, the ground is usually opened up on a huge area and filled up with trash.

But until this happens, the Victoria Falls, one of the world’s seven natural wonders, will likely run the risk of killing its own.

God is faithful.

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