Drought conditions in Zimbabwe have led to the deaths of at least 160 elephants between August and December last year in Hwange national park, home to various endangered species, as reported by the Guardian.
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With hot, dry weather persisting, conservationists fear additional casualties. Tests conducted by the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority attribute the deaths to starvation, mainly affecting young, old, or sick elephants located near water sources.
Southern Africa is experiencing persistent dry weather and prolonged droughts, with Hwange park receiving no rainfall between February and November in 2023.
Wildlife experts warn of potential recurrence in 2024 due to low nutrition, high temperatures, and water shortages. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts an El Niño weather phenomenon, indicating hot, dry weather and minimal rainfall between October and March.
Conservation efforts and challenges
Conservation groups in Hwange rush to drill boreholes and install solar-powered systems to distribute elephants to areas with abundant food.
The increasing poaching threat prompts heightened vigilance. The El Niño prediction for 2024 raises concerns about survival in the face of recurring droughts. Similar mass elephant deaths occurred in Zimbabwe in 2019 due to water scarcity.
Escalating illegal wildlife trade and wildlife crimes, attributed to an economic downturn, have led to a surge in bushmeat poaching. Six elephant deaths in January near Hwange park have been linked to poaching, indicating a resurgence in ivory poaching.
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association underscores the escalating threats, while USAid’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network highlights the dire food security situation in the country.
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Despite the challenges, conservationists and veterinarians remain committed to anti-poaching efforts, law enforcement, and patrolling. Concerns mount over the possibility of climate change exacerbating wildlife losses, emphasising the need for sustained conservation initiatives in Zimbabwe.
(With inputs from agencies)