More than 200 elephants in Zimbabwe die as drought crisis deepens

By Nyasha Chingono in Harare and Zenzele Ndebele in Bulawayo

Hundreds of elephants and tens of lions in Zimbabwe will be moved by the country’s wildlife agency as part of a major operation to save the animals from a devastating drought.

More than 200 elephants have died over the last two months due to a lack of water at the country’s main conservation zones in Mana Pools and Hwange National Park.

Residents of Jutshume village, near to Hwange National Park, shared a video of an elephant calf that had fallen into a well last month after desperately searching for water. Residents managed to rescue the calf, which later fled into the wild, but believe its leg was broken in the process.

A second adult elephant, which had collapsed near to the village, was fed by residents until it was strong enough to walk.

Zenzele (@zenzele)

The lelephant calf fell in a well looking for water. #Asakhe pic.twitter.com/TyfcP0EE3t

October 29, 2019

Animals near to Jutshume village, by the border with Botswana, used to drink from the Maitengwe dam, known locally as Mabhongane or “roaring lion”. But the wall of the dam collapsed in 2005 and has not been repaired, leaving stretches of barren land.

The country’s wildlife agency plans to move 600 elephants, two prides of lion, a pack of wild dogs, 50 buffalo, 40 giraffes and 2,000 impala, according to reports by Agence France-Presse.

Parks and wildlife authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo told AFP that the operation will begin during rainy season, when pastures flourish, usually around the middle of November. Farawo described the mission as “the biggest translocation in our history”.

The animals will be moved from Savé Valley Conservancy, a major park in southeastern Zimbabwe, to three other reserves in the north of the country.

Conservation experts have warned that the country could lose more elephants to drought if there are not enough rains this season.

A recent drought has left more than five million rural Zimbabweans, nearly a third of the population, at risk of food shortages before the next harvest in 2020, according to the UN.

Zimbabwe has 85,000 elephants but the country’s national parks and conservation areas can only cope with 55,000. Grazing lands and water have fast depleted as the country is experiencing its worst drought in years.

Charles Jonga, director of Campfire, a leading conservation organisation, says the El Niño induced drought had worsened the already dire water situation in the country’s parks.

Farawo said the wildlife agency was in dire need of water pumping equipment to save the elephants. “We are in desperate need of resources to provide water. We are desperately waiting for the rains.”

Wildlife lovers have donated bails of hay for elephants in a bid to save the world’s largest land mammal.

Many desperate animals are straying from Zimbabwe’s parks into nearby communities in search of food and water, a situation that has increased human–wildlife conflict.

Over the past five years, 200 people have reportedly died in “human–and–animal conflict”.

“We are likely to lose even more elephants, especially if the rains are late. The world must know that Hwange relies on underground water, and it has never been easy for parks to maintain this overpopulated park,” Jonga said.

Zimbabwe and other southern African nations have been calling on the global watchdog to relax terms of wildlife trade.

But Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia’s fresh appeal to lift restrictive measures on the trade in raw ivory was rejected at a conference held by Cites, the watchdog, this August. Cities prohibits unregulated commercial trade in endangered species around the world.