At least 60 elephants have died of dehydration and starvation in the past two months at Zimbabwe’s biggest conservation area, the Hwange National Park. Huge carcasses have been found at dried-up water holes, while others are scattered all around the park as the elephants travelled long distances to find water and food.
The main cause of the huge number of elephant casualties is the El Niño drought phenomenon that began in October last year and lasted until May 2019, destroying both human and animal water sources as well as food sources all across Zimbabwe.
7DNews spoke to Zimbabwe National Parks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo, who said, "So far we have lost up to 60 elephants in Hwange National Park due to starvation and lack of water. Over-population has also had a major compounding effect because Hwange has a carrying capacity of 15,000 elephants but at the moment it has more than 50,000."
Environmental lawyer and Director of Advocates4Earth, Lenin Chisaira said “Elephants and wildlife in Zimbabwe are indeed suffering from a number of factors, mostly drought, climate change and human expansion into traditional wildlife areas and national parks.
“The noisy and destructive coal mining interests are expanding into Hwange National Park where they are destroying natural habitats and are driving away wildlife sometimes straight into human settlements. This leads to cases of human-wildlife conflicts,” Chisaira said.
He is of the same opinion as the national park’s Farawo, who said, “In the past five years, at least 200 people have died from human-animal conflicts, while not less than 7,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed by hungry elephants raiding human settlements in search of food."
Elephants are huge mammals and an adult consumes on average 680 litres of water and 450kg of food per day.
Zimbabwe’s National Parks do not receive financial support from government but rely on donations from well-wishers and proceeds from trophy hunting. There is mounting pressure on national parks from the government. Earlier this year, the parks defied a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ruling that forbids the transfer of any elephants from their natural habitats. They had sold 33 baby elephants to China, which gave rise to extensive condemnation by animal rights groups worldwide.
“This is the very reason why we are saying allow us to trade in these animals, and we can raise funds for their security and food. But the so-called conservationists condemn us.
"We are in the grip of a dire situation as we are desperately waiting for the rains and in the meantime, we have had to dig boreholes deeper to provide the much-needed water for these animals to survive,” Farawo said.
Zimbabwe’s laws do not allow the government to export the country’s elephants without citizens’ consent because they are the rightful owners of the natural resources and animals. This move has given ground to animal rights groups who allege that the transfer of wildlife from Zimbabwe is illegal and fraudulent.
Non-profit making environmental law, climate and wildlife justice organisation, the Advocates4Earth, have arranged for a 600km walk from the capital city Harare to Hwange National Park. The walk, planned for this month, is intended to raise awareness and funds to care for wildlife affected by drought, climate change and human encroachment.
The plight of the largest land mammals and other wildlife in Zimbabwe’s national parks hangs in the balance as solutions to the desperate circumstances are a work in progress. The death of one more elephant or member of any species of wildlife, is one too many as they depend on our decisions and actions as human beings for their survival.