Hundreds of elephants have died during a severe drought in Zimbabwe – with a mass relocation planned to help the animals.
At least 200 elephants have died in Hwange National Park alone since October, Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo said.
Other parks are also affected, as are other animals including giraffes, buffalos and impalas, but the situation can only improve once the rains return, he said.
Image: Vultures circle an elephant carcass at a watering hole in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park
“Almost every animal is being affected,” he said.
“Of course, elephants are easily noticed during patrols or game drives, but some bird species are seriously affected because they can only breed in certain tree heights and those trees are being knocked down by elephants.”
The country’s government called a national emergency after the October rains it was counting on never emerged, leaving land parched and farmers unable to harvest crops.
Watering holes previously full of water remain nearly empty, with elephant and buffalo carcasses becoming commonplace as they get stuck in clay trying to reach the small pools of water left.
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Rangers are resorting to putting out drinking water for animals, something that is usually unheard of.
Humans are also suffering as a third of rural households – about 3.5 million people – have dangerously insecure food sources, according to the World Food Programme.
Image: A lion takes advantage of a dead elephant at a watering hole
But it is not just the lack of water that is affecting numbers, as Zimbabwe says it is struggling to cope with booming numbers of wild elephants, with an estimated 85,000 in the country – second only to neighbouring Botswana which has more than 130,000.
Many animals, of all species, are straying from Zimbabwe’s parks into nearby communities in search of food and water.
This year alone has seen 33 people die from conflicts with animals, the parks agency said.
It said it plans to move 600 elephants, two prides of lions and other animals from the Save Valley Conservancy in the southeast to less populated parks.
A pack of wild dogs, 50 buffalo, 40 giraffe and 2,000 impala will also be relocated, Mr Farawo said.
He said the animals “have exceeded their ecological carrying capacity”.
“If the populations go unchecked, the animals will threaten the very ecosystem they depend on for survival,” he said.
Image: All animals in Zimbabwe’s parks have been affected by the drought
The country wants to deal with its massive elephant population by being allowed to sell its ivory stockpile and export live elephants to raise money for conservation and ease numbers in the drought-affected parks.
Zimbabwe has raised more than £2.3 million for conservation efforts by exporting 101 elephants between 2016 and this year.
However, the move is controversial as they have been sold mainly to China and the United Arab Emirates where animal rights are regularly brought into question.
Source : Sky News