A herd of elephants on the move in Zimbabwe. Image Source / Getty Images
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Zimbabwe’s largest national park is reporting its biggest migration of elephants and other wild animals to its neighbor Botswana since 2019, as a climate crisis-fueled drought in the region has caused water holes to run dry.
Hwange National Park is home to around 50,000 elephants, according to Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), The Guardian reported. The problem is, Hwange doesn’t have the resources to support the giant herds that roam freely in the park, leading them to have to search elsewhere for water.
“We can confirm the movement of many animals from Hwange National Park into Botswana,” said Zimparks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo, as reported by Bloomberg. “It’s not only buffaloes, elephants but most of the animals because we are facing a lot of water shortages within the park. Most of the natural pans are now dry.”
Since August, these intelligent, sensitive creatures have been on their greatest migration since 2019 in search of Earth’s most precious resource, with many casualties being reported along the way.
“I cannot quantify how many elephants have moved – whether it’s hundreds or thousands – but it has been a lot,” Farawo said, as The Guardian reported. “Elephants know no boundaries – they are moving in search of water and food.”
In an effort to alleviate population issues, park authorities had planned to move some of the elephants to other areas, like Gonarezhou National Park, also located in Zimbabwe, near Mozambique. But the plan was thwarted by a lack of resources, Farawo explained.
“There is no translocation of animals. We would have loved to decongest, but there is nothing like that at the moment,” Farawo said, as reported by The Guardian. “We already have mitigation measures in place, but there are some things which are beyond us, like no rainfall. We are now relying more on artificial water from boreholes. It is an expensive process.”
Half the population of savanna elephants — also known as African bush elephants — in the world live in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia and Namibia.
“Water bodies have dried up,” the Hwange National Park spokesperson said.
The spokesperson explained that while wildlife migration between Hwange and Botswana is not uncommon, this year it had started “too early” due to climate change.
Mass migrations of wild animals have the potential to lead to more human-wildlife conflict as the animals move through populated areas.
A recent survey of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier, a 210,000-square-mile conservation area that borders all five of the countries with heavy elephant populations, said, “The carcass ratio suggests a high level of mortality which warrants further investigation as a potential warning sign for the health and stability of the elephant population,” reported The Guardian.
Zimbabwe’s elephant population is estimated by Zimparks to be about 100,000 and has been increasing until recently.