Many of Africa’s best known kinds of wild animals are dying from lack of food and water in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park.
The 2,196- square-kilometer wildlife reserve gets its name from the four nearby bodies of water that the flooding Zambezi River fills every rainy season. The area is home to elephants, zebras, hippopotamuses and many other kinds of wildlife.
But the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority reports that at least 105 elephants have died in Zimbabwe’s wildlife areas recently. Most of the deaths have been in Mana and the larger Hwange National Park in the past two months, the agency said.
Many animals are moving out of the parks and into nearby communities in search of food and water.
Mana Pools is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site known for its beauty. The area experiences hot, dry weather at this time every year. But this year, the dry conditions have been much worse. Even the river’s flow has reduced.
The drought hitting southern Africa is also affecting people. The World Food Program reports that hunger threatens an estimated 11 million people in nine countries. The organization is planning large food distribution projects. The countries of southern Africa have experienced normal rainfall in only one of the past five growing seasons, the group says.
Hopes for rain
Each morning, Munyaradzi Dzoro, a parks agency wildlife officer, hopes for rain.
“It’s beginning to be serious,” he told the Associated Press, standing next to the remains of a dead elephant and buffalo. “It might be worse if we fail to receive rains” by early November.
The last major rainfall came in April, he said.
Mel Hood works with the Feed Mana project, which is providing food support to animals in the area. She said an early end to a “very poor rainy season” has limited the growth of plants the animals need.
The area’s once dependable water resources have turned dangerous for the animals. Many have gotten stuck in the soft soil or clay while trying to reach Long Pool, a five-kilometer-long watering hole. It is one of the few remaining water resources in the park but is only five percent of its normal size.
There are more than 12,000 elephants in Mana’s flood plains. Lions, buffaloes, zebras, wild dogs, hyenas, 350 kinds of birds and many water animals live in the park, the parks agency reports.
“We used to say nature should take its course,” Dzoro said of the park’s normal policy of not getting involved and letting the ecosystem find its own balance.
Now, he said, officials are getting involved to avoid losing animals and maintain population sizes.
Local plant life such as acacias, as well as other trees and grasses, provide most of the food for big animals like elephants and buffaloes. But the lack of rain has severely reduced the amount of plant life, so officials began bringing food to the park in July.
Mel Hood says The Feed Mana project has been asking for “urgent” donations of animal feed such as soy bean hay and grass.
“Although it may not be enough to stave off all the hunger…it is certainly giving these animals a chance to survive until conditions improve,” Hood said.
I’m Pete Musto.
Farai Mutsaka reported this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor. We want to hear from you. How do officials protect endangered animals in your country? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
reserve – n. an area of land where animals and plants are given special protection
drought – n. a long period of time during which there is very little or no rain
distribution – n. the act of giving or delivering something to people
plain(s) – n. a large area of flat land without trees
take its course – expr. to permit something to happen without trying to control it
ecosystem – n. everything that exists in a given environment
stave off – p.v. to keep someone or something away usually for a short time
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