Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe counts cost of too many elephants

Zimbabwe counts cost of too many elephants

23/10/2012 00:00:00
by AFP

A HERD of elephants hobbles past a cluster of acacia trees to a water-hole 
deep in Zimbabwe’s vast Hwange game reserve, attracted by the drone of 
generators pumping water round the clock into the pool.

With the elephant population ballooning, wildlife authorities have resorted 
to using 45 generators, each consuming 200 litres (52 gallons) of diesel a 
week from June to November, to ensure the animals can get water.

The strategy appears to be working. So far this year around 17 elephants 
have died in the area due to the extreme heat and lack of water, compared to 
77 last year.

“The elephants drink close to 90 percent of all the water (pumped) here,” 
said Edwin Makuwe, an ecologist with the Zimbabwe National Parks and 
Wildlife Authority, “I think elephants now know that when they hear an 
engine running, chances are that there is water close by.”

But the water, while life-preserving, may be running against the flow of 
nature. The 14,600-square-kilometre (5,600-square-mile) reserve is home to 
between 35,000 to 40,000 elephants, twice its capacity. The increase in the 
elephant population has led to higher demand for water at the park, home to 
over 100 different species of animals including the “Big Five”: elephant, 
lion, leopard, buffalo and the endangered rhinoceros.

Makuwe said the rise in the elephant population at the game reserve, 
established in 1949, had also led to the destruction of the environment.

“There is so much activity by the elephants that the vegetation has been 
affected negatively, the trees are no longer growing as fast as they should, 
they are no longer producing as many seeds as they should. In the long term 
this will have a negative effect on the entire habitat of Hwange.”

He said the quality of the forage had gone down, with elephants stripping 
tree barks and digging roots for food.
“The African savanna is supposed to be a mosaic of trees and grasses. The 
moment you start to have more grasslands than trees it is not functioning as 
African savanna.”

Makuwe fears small animals and insects who live in the trees risk 

“If you lose the trees and you are left with the grasslands, then definitely 
some of the species will be lost,” he said.
The authorities are yet to find a solution. “Some people advocate to let 
nature take its course … (but) we are yet to find a method which can 
convince all the people to accept and bring down the (elephant) population,” 
Makuwe added.

With tourists, who have shunned the country over the years, slowly 
returning, there is little incentive to cull the main attraction.

In the meantime, Tom Milliken, of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said 
elephants in Hwange were suffering greatly due to the water shortages.

“This is the worst time of the year for elephants and we still have a month 
before the rains come,” he told AFP. “Elephants have most stress this time 
of the year when there is no water.”


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