In Zimbabwe, elephants have been forcibly migrating to Botswana as the climate crisis has led to shortage of water, officials said on Tuesday, posing a problem for national parks and conservation efforts.
The number of affected elephants is not yet estimated. The development is the result of a survey conducted this month that pointed out that elephants are dying of heat stress.
Half of the world’s savanna (African bush) elephants are found in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Out of 228,000 elephants, the survey reported a “carcass (mortality) ratio” of 10.5%.
The survey was carried out in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier conservation area, one of the world’s largest wildlife conservation areas, comprising 520,000 sq km (210,000 sq miles) within the borders of the five states. The report stated, “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.”
However, the population of elephants has been increasing in Zimbabwe, which is straining the biodiversity and causing clashes with locals as the animals enter human-occupied areas in search of water. 60 Zimbabweans have been killed by elephants in 2023, government spokesman Nick Mangwana said.
Tinashe Farawo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), said, “Elephants know no boundaries – they are moving in search of water and food.” “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.”
Farawo further added that buffaloes and “all types of animals present in the Hwange National Park” were also migrating in large numbers.
Zimbabwe has an estimated 100,000 elephants, and authorities had reported overpopulation in regions such as Hwange, an area of more than 14,600 sq km (5,600 sq miles) and home to about 50,000 elephants, according to the figure released by Zimparks.
The elephants began migrating in August about which Farawo said, “I cannot quantify how many elephants have moved – whether it’s hundreds or thousands – but it has been a lot.”
To reduce overpopulation in Hwange, authorities planned to move elephants to other areas in 2023, such as Gonarezhou in southeast Zimbabwe, near the border with Mozambique. But the lack of resources hindered this plan, Farawo said. “There is no translocation of animals. We would have loved to decongest, but there is nothing like that at the moment,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has been seeking to influence the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to lift its ban on elephant ivory sales (£480m) temporarily, which it claims to be spiking up, and it argues that the proceeds of a one-off sale to aid its conservation efforts.