Blantyre, Malawi — Residents in areas surrounding Malawi's Kasungu National Park are criticizing two wildlife organizations for allegedly enabling deadly elephant incursions.
In June 2022, the African Parks Organization and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) funded the relocation of 250 elephants to restock the partly-fenced park despite protests. The lack of fencing has allowed the elephants to roam outside the park, causing mayhem and civilian deaths.
Villagers in the areas of Nthunduwala and Chulu say the elephants have destroyed hundreds of hectares of crops and killed six people, the most recent death on September 16.
Masiye Phiri, 32, was killed by elephants early this year at Chifwamba village in the Chulu area. Her father-in-law, Postani Jere, said he is struggling to care for Phiri's five children. Her husband fled the village soon after the elephant killed his wife.
Jere said he can't afford food for the children, or to pay for their schooling. In addition, he said, the elephants have destroyed all the family's crops.
He also said the roaming elephants forced farmers to abandon cultivating in the nearby Chiwoza Irrigation Scheme.
The animals had been moved to Kasungu National Park because poaching had depleted the park's elephant population.
However, the organizations responsible for the move declined requests from the community to finish erecting the 110-kilometer fence that would keep the animals away from people and their crops before bringing in the elephants.
Patricio Ndadzela, the representative of IFAW in Malawi and Zambia, said work is in progress to fence the remaining part of the park.
"When we were translocating these animals, we had done 40 kilometers of fence. As I am saying, we are talking of 90 kilometers of the fence now. By the end of next year, we will have done 110 kilometers of the fence," Ndadzela said.
Incidents of elephants killing people are not unique to Malawi.
An IFAW report concludes around 400 people die each year from conflict with elephants in India. The report also says about 200 people were killed by elephants in Kenya between 2010 and 2017.
However, Ndadzela said the human-wildlife conflict at Kasungu National Park is largely because people there ignore warnings to avoid conflict with the elephants.
"We had an incident where one community member was following an elephant that had come out, to a level where somebody wanted to touch the tail of the elephant," he said. "Those dangerous sorts of attitudes ... can be avoided."
Ndadzela added that the communities grow their crops very close to the national park boundary, which makes it easy for elephants to destroy the crops.
In the meantime, the bereaved families and owners of the destroyed crops near Kasungu National Park are asking the Malawi government to compensate them.
Malawian Minister for Tourism Vera Kamtukule told VOA that the existing wildlife legislation does not provide compensation for people attacked by wild animals.
"So, what we are doing now is we are working very closely with our counterparts in the Ministry of Justice and also the Law Commission to see how we can review the Wildlife Act to ensure that we are incorporating issues of compensation," Kamtukule said.
Kamtukule added that the government has increased the number of game rangers to help keep the elephants away from people living near the parks.