Zimbabwean authorities attribute mass elephant fatalities in national park to drought and climate change.

At least 100 elephants have died in Zimbabwe’s largest national park in recent weeks because of drought, their carcasses a grisly sign of what wildlife authorities and conservation groups say is the impact of climate change and the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Authorities warn that more could die as forecasts suggest a scarcity of rains and rising heat in parts of the southern African nation including Hwange National Park. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has described it as a crisis for elephants and other animals.

“El Nino is making an already dire situation worse,” said Tinashe Farawo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

El Nino is a natural and recurring weather phenomenon that warms parts of the Pacific, affecting weather patterns around the world. While this year’s El Nino brought deadly floods to East Africa recently, it is expected to cause below-average rainfall across southern Africa.

That has already been felt in Zimbabwe, where the rainy season began weeks later than usual. While some rain has now fallen, the forecasts are generally for a dry, hot summer ahead.

Studies indicate that climate change may be making El Ninos stronger, leading to more extreme consequences.

Authorities fear a repeat of 2019, when more than 200 elephants in Hwange died in a severe drought.

“This phenomenon is recurring,” said Phillip Kuvawoga, a landscape program director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which raised the alarm for Hwange’s elephants in a report this month.

Parks agency spokesperson Farawo posted a video on social media site X, formerly Twitter, showing a young elephant struggling for its life after becoming stuck in mud in a water hole that had partly dried up in Hwange.

“The most affected elephants are the young, elderly and sick that can’t travel long distances to find water,” Farawo said. He said an average-sized elephant needs a daily water intake of about 52 gallons. Farawo shared other images that showed a female elephant stuck in the mud and another found dead in a shallow watering hole

Park rangers remove the tusks from dead elephants where they can for safekeeping and so the carcasses don’t attract poachers.

Hwange is home to around 45,000 elephants along with more than 100 other mammal species and 400 bird species.

Zimbabwe’s rainy season once started reliably in October and ran through to March. It has become erratic in recent years and conservationists have noticed longer, more severe dry spells.

“Our region will have significantly less rainfall, so the dry spell could return soon because of El Nino,” said Trevor Lane, director of The Bhejane Trust, a conservation group which assists Zimbabwe’s parks agency.

He said his organization has been pumping 1.5 million liters of water into Hwange’s waterholes daily from over 50 boreholes it manages in partnership with the parks agency. The 14,500-square-kilometer (5,600-square-mile) park, which doesn’t have a major river flowing through it, has just over 100 solar-powered boreholes that pump water for the animals.

Saving elephants is not just for the animals’ sake, conservationists say. They are a key ally in fighting climate change through the ecosystem by dispersing vegetation over long distances through dung that contains plant seeds, enabling forests to spread, regenerate and flourish. Trees suck planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

“They perform a far bigger role than humans in reforestation,” Lane said. “That is one of the reasons we fight to keep elephants alive.”



In recent weeks, Zimbabwe’s largest national park, Hwange National Park, has seen the death of over 100 elephants due to drought, highlighting the impact of climate change and the El Nino weather phenomenon. Wildlife authorities and conservation groups warn that more elephants could die as forecasts predict a scarcity of rains and rising heat in the region. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has described the situation as a crisis for elephants and other animals.

El Nino is a recurring weather phenomenon that warms parts of the Pacific and affects weather patterns globally. This year’s El Nino has caused deadly floods in East Africa but is expected to bring below-average rainfall to southern Africa. Zimbabwe has already experienced a delayed rainy season, and the forecasts suggest a dry and hot summer ahead.

Studies indicate that climate change may be intensifying the strength of El Ninos, leading to more extreme consequences. Authorities fear a repeat of 2019 when over 200 elephants died in Hwange due to a severe drought. The most vulnerable elephants are the young, elderly, and sick, unable to travel long distances in search of water.

Zimbabwe’s parks agency is taking measures to mitigate the impact of the drought, including pumping water into Hwange’s waterholes daily. Hwange is home to approximately 45,000 elephants and numerous other animal and bird species. The erratic rainy season in recent years has caused longer and more severe dry spells, posing a threat to the region’s wildlife.

It is crucial to save elephants not only for their own sake but also because they play a significant role in fighting climate change. Elephants disperse vegetation through their dung, which contains plant seeds, enabling forests to spread and regenerate. This process helps in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, contributing to reforestation efforts.

The current context of the situation is that the mass deaths of elephants in Zimbabwe’s national park are attributed to a combination of drought, climate change, and the El Nino weather phenomenon. These factors have led to a scarcity of water and food for the elephants, endangering their survival. Efforts are being made by wildlife authorities and conservation groups to mitigate the impact and save the remaining elephant population in the park.

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