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Save Presidential elephants

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The drought that has hit Matabeleland North could wipe out an elite herd of elephants granted “perpetual protection” by President Robert Mugabe as the water crisis sweeps across the vast Hwange National Park.

Report by wisdom Mdzungairi

The situation could also spell doom for the communities living alongside the country’s flagship game reserve amid reports that the water shortage had led wildlife to invade nearby villages to quench their thirst.

At least 19 elephants reportedly succumbed to thirst last month bringing to over 75 jumbo deaths so far this year. During the same period last year, 80 elephants also died due to the biting water crisis. It is a known fact that Hwange is a dry area and annually hundreds of elephants die as a result. Thousands of other game species have also died as they cannot compete for the limited resource with the jumbos at the few dotted waterholes around the park.

As a result of the dire situation, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) last week sent an SOS to save the animals. Curiously, the appeal came after it had become apparent that the situation could surpass that of 2005 when hundreds of elephants died due to shortage of water.

In its wisdom and/or lack of it, the authority appealed for over $100 000, which it said would help save the calamitous state of affairs. There is no doubt that Zimparks should have prepared for this long before. This state of affairs could have been avoided had Zimparks stuck to its mandate — that of protecting flora and fauna — in place of political considerations. There are 72 pans in Hwange, all of which are dry as no water pumping is being done.

Alas, we were told Zimparks is facing financial squeeze which has seen a number of its operations being heavily compromised. Treasury reportedly allocated $1,5 million to Zimparks, but the funds were surprisingly not released. Could that have heightened the water crisis in the park or it’s sheer mismanagement by the authority?
What has happened to Zimparks, partners? Could this be a sign of donor fatigue as a result of Zimparks, abuse of donated financial and material resources?

Given that Hwange is the country’s main national park, priority should be given to protection of the game reserve as demand for water has always outstripped supply during the hot season.
Pressure on the water holes has also increased owing to an upsurge in wildlife frequenting the watering holes. This has obviously created a situation whereby pumped water is not adequate for game during the late dry season.

According to Zimparks’ Caroline Washaya-Moyo, this year Robins and Sinamatella camps had witnessing an influx of key wildlife species presumably from neighbouring Botswana.

She says 11 carcasses were recently recorded at Robins, Bumbusi, Mandavu, Masuna and Sinamatella Camp while Hwange Main camps recorded six elephant carcasses.

What became of the donor meeting at Hwange Main Camp last Wednesday?
Although the park is overpopulated, that is no reason why authorities should not do their duty to protect the vulnerable and endangered species in the vast game reserve.

Ironically, Hwange is home to this group of elephants numbering over 400 identified as the Presidential elephants.

Mugabe bestowed his personal patronage on the elephant herd in 1990 as a symbol of Zimbabwe’s commitment to animal conservation.
It was an idyllic time.

But, now this can come unstuck if the water crisis is not dealt with as a matter of urgency to save the very same species that he has given “perpetual protection” over the years.

Dozens of the Presidential elephants have been killed in a ruthless surge of poaching that conservationists report that the herd is in danger of disappearing.

The elephants are also being trapped in wire snares which wrap around their neck, head, chest, legs and trunks, wounding and maiming them. Some die from disease while huge numbers were dying of water shortage.

If the snares are not removed quickly, the elephants’ chances of survival are slim. Baby elephants find it particularly difficult to free themselves and drag the snares until they drop.

Until recently, it had been thought that water was enough for the jumbos and other game, but it is to the contrary.

At least 30 000 litres of diesel is needed to pump adequate water into pans and to repair some of the broken-down pumps. If that does not happen, the country can anticipate increased human-wildlife conflict in communities around the game reserve.

Though the indifference, among others continues, let us continue to strive to protect and promote these extraordinary elephants.

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