MORE than 80 elephants died at the Hwange National Park during last year’s drought, Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority public relations manager Caroline Washaya-Moyo said on Friday.
Report by Nduduzo Tshuma Staff Reporter
She was speaking at the park’s boma before the transfer of five baby elephants to the Umfurutsi Recreational Park in Mashonaland Central for further rehabilitation and release into the wild.
Four of the baby elephants were meant to be exported to China, but because of the time they spent at the boma interacting with humans, it was decided that they would be rehabilitated and released into the wild.
“From the known statistics, the number of big elephants that died in the drought season are more than 80,” said Washaya-Moyo without stating the actual figure.
However, she said, the situation had improved at the park following heavy rains experienced in Matabeleland North.
“As you can see, the forest has improved as well as the water situation,” said Washaya-Moyo.
“The park is overpupulated with a population of 45 000 elephants while we can only hold 35 000.
“The pressure from elephants has caused a lot of damage to the soil and vegetation.
“Some have suggested culling, but we would not do that because of opposition from environmentalists. Southern Africa has the largest population of elephants in the world.”
She said her organisation would engage stakeholders to discuss ways of curbing elephant deaths.
“We want to establish what exactly kills the elephants because in some instances, you find dead elephants while there is water.
“The drought has been experienced in preceeding years and now that we are in another year, we want to share ideas on how these deaths could be curbed,” Washaya-Moyo said.
She said the wildlife authority was confident the five baby elephants would be rehabilitated and sent to the wild at Umfurutsi.
She said they would have to engage China on other arrangements to export four baby elephants to the Asian country which had ordered eight elephants.
Only four elephants were sent last month.
“We will send two officials from here to go and see how the rehabilitation process will be done, but we are confident that the management at Umfurutsi will do the job,” she said.
One of the directors at Umfurutsi, Hamish Rudland, said the elephants would be put in a boma for three months so they adapt to the environment and then be moved into a 3 000 hectare fenced area.
“The whole area measures up to 74 000 hectares where the elephants will be later released into,” she said. The rehabilitation will take up to five years. There are nine other elephants that are semi-domesticated that will later be intergrated with the baby elephants.
She added that Umfurutsi has more that 1 600 species of wild animals.