Under conditions of political instability and economic decline illegal bushmeat hunting has emerged as a serious conservation threat in Zimbabwe. Following settlement of game ranches by subsistence farming communities, wildlife populations have been eradicated over large areas. In several areas still being managed as game ranches illegal hunting is causing further declines of wildlife populations (including threatened species such as the wild dog Lycaon pictus and black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis), threatening the viability of wildlife-based land uses. From August 2001 to July 2009 in Savé Valley Conservancy 10,520 illegal hunting incidents were recorded, 84,396 wire snares removed, 4,148 hunters caught, 2,126 hunting dogs eliminated and at least 6,454 wild animals killed. Estimated future financial losses from illegal hunting in the Conservancy exceed USD 1.1 million year-1. Illegal hunters’ earnings account for 0.31–0.52% of the financial losses that they impose and the bushmeat trade is an inefficient use of wildlife resources. Illegal hunting peaks during the late dry season and is more frequent close to the boundary, near areas resettled during land reform and close to water. Illegal hunting with dogs peaks during moonlight periods. Our study highlights several management and land-use planning steps required to maximize the efficacy of anti-poaching and to reduce the likelihood of high impacts of illegal hunting. Anti-poaching efforts should be aligned with the regular temporal and spatial patterns of illegal hunting. Leases for hunting and tourism concessions should ensure minimum adequate investment by operators in anti-poaching. Reserve designers should minimize the surface area to volume ratio of parks. Fences should not be constructed using wire that can be made into snares. Land reform involving game ranches should integrate communities in wildlife-based land uses and ensure spatial separation between land for wildlife and human settlement. Means are required to create stake-holdings for communities in wildlife and disincentives for illegal hunting.
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