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Animal rights experts search for climate solutions at COP28

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An elephant lies dead - an extended dry season and extreme heat is killing elephants by the dozens in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Photograph: © Privilege Musvanhiri

Conservationists are looking up to negotiators to place the welfare of wildlife animals at the centre of discussions during this year’s United Nations climate change summit in Dubai.

This comes at a time when elephants are dying from dehydration in Hwange National Park, the country’s largest animal reserve, as El Nino rips through across Zimbabwe.

The authorities reported that five elephants were found dead in Sinamatela in Hwange.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) spokesperson, Tinashe Farawo, has attributed this to climate change-induced droughts.

Andrea Athanas, vice president for enterprise and investment at the African Wildlife Foundation, said the fact that biodiversity and nature are on the agenda is a welcome development.

“This COP28 is a real change in terms of how nature is on the agenda for both adaptation, mitigation and resilience for communities that are facing the impacts of climate change,” she told Newsday in an interview on the sidelines of COP28 at Expo City in Dubai.

“At this COP28 there is real movement in placing nature-based solutions at the centre of solutions that are coming to the table to live under 1.5C.”

In other UN climate summits particularly in the 2010s, nature was a sideshow and it was tough to put it on the agenda of negotiations around climate finance. 

She said at COP28 there was a clear discussion on how negotiations surrounding indigenous people and communities who are resource managers and custodians of biodiversity.

“There are a lot of details we are working through. But we are on the right table with the right people for nature,” she said.

There is no natural river that flows through Hwange National Park, home to more than 45,000 elephants, half of Zimbabwe’s jumbo population.

One adult elephant needs about 200 litres of water per day. 

Most of the natural water sources have dried up. 

The over 100 solar-powered boreholes in the park can not cope anymore as climate change has pushed down the water tables.

Athanas said there is a need to increase financial resources for affected communities to save wildlife.

“Right now the trajectory that we are on is not good. We need to change it. We need investments to change it,” she said.

“We know there are solutions. We know there are ways of ensuring that both people and animals have more resilience and the capacity to adapt to climate change.”

Athanas said the solutions are within the affected communities themselves and should not be imported from outside the African continent. 

“This is about local innovation. Also making sure that we are putting people at the centre of the ecosystem and biodiversity.”

Gilles Etoga, a senior policy and conservation coordinator at World Wildlife Fund Cameroon, said he hopes the outcome of COP28 will not only help the conservation of wildlife but also put humans at the centre of nature.

“The impact of climate change is that animals die and there is loss of biodiversity. There is a direct connection to climate change. When the climate is changing the impact will be the loss of biodiversity,” he said.

“There is a huge increase in terms of human and wildlife conflict especially with the elephants. As human beings, we have a way to adapt to climate change providing new sources of water. The elephants will come to these water sources.”

Authorities in the country have been in the past few years recording an increase in human and wildlife conflicts in areas like Hwange and Binga as people and elephants in particular compete for food and water. 

Athanas said addressing climate change is the answer to resolving these conflicts.

“Climate financing is not getting to the ground. It's being stuck in the pipeline. There is a lot of money going into the pipeline but there is a place it is not getting out of, it is not having an impact on the ground,” she said. 

“That has to change. For these solutions to start to take traction with the people who are on the frontlines of climate change.”

*This story was produced with support from MESHA and the IDRC Eastern and Southern Africa office.

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