Zimbabwe: elephants and other animals try to escape the impact of climate change

Climate change-induced drought has triggered a mass-movement of elephants from Zimbabwe’s biggest national park into neighbouring Botswana in a search for water and food.

Elephants and other animals such as buffaloes, wildebeests and zebras are leaving Hwange National Park in their droves, crossing into Botswana to escape the prevailing drought conditions in the southern African nation, said Tinashe Farawo, the spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (Zimparks).

Although seasonal migrations are common, this year the migration has started much earlier because of the arid conditions in Hwange National Park caused by poor rains in the preceding rainy season, Farawo told this reporter.

“By August, most water sources had run dry, which is unusual because we experience this after the hottest period of October-November,” Farawo explained.

The elephants return to the park around December, when the dry season is over and food and water are plentiful.

The 14,600 square kilometres Hwange National Park is home to half of Zimbabwe’s 100,000 elephants. The park hosts over 100 mammal and 400 bird species, including 19 large herbivores and eight large carnivores.

Zimbabwe has experienced frequent droughts. According to the Zimbabwe Meteorological Services Department, daily minimum temperatures have risen by 2.6 degrees Celsius over the last century, while daily maximum temperatures have risen by 2°C.

The number of cold days has decreased, while hot days have become more common. Rainfall has decreased by some 20 per cent, while the frequency of droughts has increased from once a decade to about once every three years.

“Both minimum and maximum temperatures have increased since the early 1980s by about 1°C, hence reduced soil moisture through evapotranspiration,”  said professor Desmond Manatsa, executive dean in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the Bindura University of Science Education in Zimbabwe.

Both the World Wildlife Fund and African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) have classified water scarcity as one of the serious threats facing wildlife in the world.

Keneth Ononga


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