At least 100 elephants die in Zimbabwe national park blamed on drought, climate change

At least 100 elephants have died in Zimbabwe’s largest national park in recent weeks due to drought, their carcasses a grim sign of what wildlife authorities and conservation groups say impact of climate change and El Nino weather phenomenon.

Authorities warned that many more could die as forecasts suggested scarce rainfall and rising heat in parts of the southern African country including Hwange National Park. The International Fund for Animal Welfare described it as a crisis for elephants and other animals.

“El Nino is making a dire situation worse,” said Tinashe Farawo, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

El Nino is a natural and recurring seasonal phenomenon warming parts of the Pacific, which affects weather patterns around the world. While this year’s El Nino brought deadly floods in East Africa recently, it is expected to cause below-average rainfall across southern Africa.

Dead Elephants in Zimbabwe
In this photo provided by IFAW, an elephant lies dead meters from a watering hole in Hwange National Park, Tuesday December 5, 2023.

Privilege Musvanhiri / AP

That has already been felt in Zimbabwe, where the rainy season started weeks later than usual. While some rain has fallen now, the forecast is generally for a dry, hot summer ahead.

Studies have shown this Climate change may intensify El Ninowhich leads to worse consequences.

Authorities fear a repeat of 2019, when more than 200 elephants in Hwange died in a severe drought.

“This phenomenon is repeated,” said Phillip Kuvawoga, a landscape program director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which raised the alarm for Hwange’s elephants in a report this month.

Park agency spokesperson Farawo posted a video on social media site X, formerly Twitter, showing a struggling young elephant for his life after being stuck in the mud of a water hole that has dried up a bit in Hwange.

“The most affected elephants are the young, the old and the sick who cannot travel far to find water,” said Farawo. He said that an average-sized elephant needs a daily water intake of about 52 gallons. Farawo shared other images showing a female elephant stuck in the mud and another found dead in a shallow water hole.

Park rangers remove tusks from dead elephants where they can for safekeeping and to keep the carcasses from attracting poachers.

Hwange is home to about 45,000 elephants along with more than 100 other mammal species and 400 bird species.

The rainy season in Zimbabwe once starts reliably in October and continues until March. It has gotten worse in recent years and conservationists are noticing longer, more severe summers.

“Our region has very little rainfall, so the dry spell could return soon because of El Nino,” said Trevor Lane, director of The Bhejane Trust, a conservation group that helps the agency. in Zimbabwe park.

He said his organization pumps 1.5 million liters of water into Hwange’s waterhole every day from more than 50 boreholes it manages in partnership with the park agency. The 5,600-square-mile park, which has no major rivers flowing through it, has more than 100 solar-powered boreholes that pump water for the animals.

Saving the elephants is not only for the benefit of the animals, conservationists say. They are a key ally in the fight against climate change through ecosystems by dispersing plants over long distances through dung containing plant seeds, enabling forests to spread, regenerate and thrive. . Trees absorb planet-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“They play a much bigger role than humans in reforestation,” Lane said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re fighting to keep elephants alive.”

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