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More Than 160 Zimbabwean Elephants Dead

Photograph: Ondrej Prosicky/ Shutterstock.com

The drought in Hwange national park was the cause of most of the wildlife deaths, at least 160 elephants have died as drought conditions hit Zimbabwe, and with hot, dry weather likely to continue, conservationists fear there could be more deaths to come. Experts have started to fear the climate crisis could make such events look normal.

Between August and December last year, Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) confirmed the deaths of Hwange national parks’ elephants, which is home to endangered elephants, buffalo, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, and other species.

Tinashe Farawo, a spokesperson for Zimparks, said on Tuesday: “We have been doing tests, and preliminary results show that they were dying due to starvation. Most of the animals were dying between 50m and 100m from water sources.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in its November update that this was likely to result in the “delayed onset of rainfall and prolonged dry spells.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast a strong El Niño weather phenomenon between October and this March, resulting in hot, dry weather and little amounts of rainfall.

In Hwange, conservation groups are now rushing to drill more boreholes in a bid to spread the elephants out into areas where food is more readily available.

They are also installing solar-powered systems on existing boreholes to extend pumping hours to meet the expected pressure in the hot season from August.

Veterinarians and conservationists involved in Hwange said that elephants initially died in a cluster around one of the most used water points in the park.

Later, they added that the deaths became widespread and were not appearing in clusters.

Another conservationist said that, during one count in September, more than 1,800 elephants were trying to drink from a single water source.

“It was horrible to see orphaned calves waiting aimlessly for death, and it’s horrible to drive around seeing and smelling dead elephants,” said the conservationist. This conservationist declined to be named because they did not have permission from Zimparks to comment on the deaths.

They added: “What we need to panic about is the possibility that climate change will make this year’s losses of animals due to dry weather look normal.”

Zimparks confirmed these deaths. Environmental groups say the tusks had been removed from the elephants, indicating ivory poaching.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association said in a statement that “the poaching incident in Gwayi unfolds against a backdrop of escalating illegal wildlife trade and wildlife crimes.”

Lane commented that “people are getting desperate and resorting to the poaching of wildlife.”

“We need to continue doing law enforcement and patrolling,” said Farawo.

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