Zimbabwe : A long drought is decimating the ranks of elephants

In Zimbabwe’s Hwange Park, the rains are more than six weeks late and temperatures are reaching 40 degrees. Between September and the end of November, 112 pachyderms died.

Storm clouds are finally gathering over Hwange National Park, but it’s too late for more than a hundred elephants, who have succumbed to a prolonged drought at the start of this austral summer. Simba Marozva and other rangers in the Zimbabwean reserve now just have to cut the tusks off the decomposing corpses to prevent poachers from finding them.

The scene is heartbreaking: blackened corpses mark a landscape where the rains are more than six weeks late and temperatures regularly reach 40 degrees. Some have fallen into dried-up potholes, others have spent their last hours in the shade of a tree. Many are baby elephants: all that remains is their shrivelled skin over their bones, giving off a nagging smell.

According to conservationists, there are twice as many elephants in Zimbabwe’s nature parks as their capacity allows. For Tinashe Farawo, spokesperson for the Zimbabwean parks, the death of elephants in Hwange has become a « big problem », but is not surprising given the size of the population.

Hwange Park, which is covered in dry grass, leafless trees and semi-desert open areas, has 104 solar-powered water boreholes to reach water tables whose water levels are steadily dropping.
The dried-up waterholes force elephants and other wild animals to travel long distances to drink. Some have crossed into Botswana and other neighbouring countries, where many deaths have been reported.

Keneth Ononga

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