Hundred elephants reported dead owing to an El Nino induced drought in Zimbabwe

– the extended dry season has reduced once abundant water holes, to muddy puddles hence elephants are walking long distances in search of water.

John Cassim

An elephant carcass at Hwange National Park recently. Elephants are dying due to lack of water owing to an El Niño phenomenon that has affected the 45 000 strong elephant population and other wildlife species

Harare, Zimbabwe – At least 100 elephants have died in the past three months, due to lack of water in the Hwange National Park, as the El Nino phenomenon has prolonged the dry spell.

Hwange National Park is the country’s largest protected area and is home to more than 45 000 elephants.

The wildlife sanctuary does not have a river that runs through and relies entirely on bore water. 

In a statement released Monday by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), elephants and other wildlife are dying in Zimbabwe, as an extended dry season has reduced once abundant water holes, to muddy puddles.

“Elephants and other wildlife species will face a crisis if the rains don’t come soon,” says Phillip Kuvawoga, Landscape Programme Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

“In 2019, over 200 elephants died in Zimbabwe due to severe drought; this phenomenon is recurring.”

Despite having 104 solar-powered boreholes, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority officials say it isn’t enough and a no match for extreme temperatures drying up existing waterholes, and forcing wildlife to walk long distances in search of food and water. 

Water-dependent mammals like elephants are among the most affected.

Sources in Hwange have dismissed poaching as most of the carcasses are being found with their tasks.

While a few carcasses have been located elsewhere within the national park, the majority were near the water points. 

Elephants need hundreds of litres of water every day. But it’s unclear how climate change will alter their water needs.

Overall, elephants must drink at least every 2 to 3 days to avoid potentially dangerous levels of dehydration.

Dehydration in elephants could lead to lower birth rates and reduced milk for baby elephants.

As global temperatures climb, wild elephants will need more water. Yet it will become scarcer as watering holes dry up and water-rich plants become rarer. 

That could worsen human wildlife conflict as both human and elephants fight for scarce resources.

Elephants will be forced to raid crops or destroy underground water infrastructures, leading to violent confrontations.

Meanwhile news of the tragedy comes during COP28, while global leaders and climate change experts gather to determine ambition and responsibilities and identify and assess climate measures at the global climate change conference in Dubai.

IFAW’s agenda at COP28 advocates for wildlife conservation as a nature-based solution to tackling climate change.

“Wild animals protect the carbon already stored in nature, prevent it from being released into the atmosphere, and help nature soak up and store even more carbon,” says Kuvawoga.

The devastating impact of climate change on wildlife and humans calls for an integrated and holistic approach to support climate-resilient landscapes and communities.

“The anticipated deaths of elephants and other species, such as we are seeing in Zimbabwe right now, must be seen as a symptom of deep-seated and complex challenges affecting the region’s natural resources conservation, aggravated by climate change.”

Meanwhile news of the tragedy comes during COP28, while global leaders and climate change experts gather to determine ambition and responsibilities and identify and assess climate measures at the global climate change conference in Dubai.

IFAW’s agenda at COP28 advocates for wildlife conservation as a nature-based solution to tackling climate change.

“Wild animals protect the carbon already stored in nature, prevent it from being released into the atmosphere, and help nature soak up and store even more carbon,” says Kuvawoga.

The devastating impact of climate change on wildlife and humans calls for an integrated and holistic approach to support climate-resilient landscapes and communities.

“The anticipated deaths of elephants and other species, such as we are seeing in Zimbabwe right now, must be seen as a symptom of deep-seated and complex challenges affecting the region’s natural resources conservation, aggravated by climate change.”

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