At least 105 elephants have died in Zimbabwe’s wildlife reserves, most of them in Mana and the larger Hwange National Park in the past two months.
Many desperate animals are straying from Zimbabwe’s parks into nearby communities in search of food and water.
Weak from hunger and thirst, the elephant struggled to reach a pool of water in this African wildlife reserve.
But the majestic mammal got stuck in the mud surrounding the sun-baked watering hole. Eventually park staff freed the trapped elephant, but it collapsed and died.
Just yards away lay the carcass of a Cape buffalo that had also been pulled from the mud, but was attacked by hungry lions.
Elephants, zebras, hippos, impalas, buffaloes and many other wildlife are stressed by lack of food and water in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park.
Mana Pools, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its splendid setting along the Zambezi River, annually experiences hot, dry weather at this time of year. But this year it’s far worse as a result of poor rains last year. Even the river’s flow has reduced.
The drought parching southern Africa is also affecting people. An estimated 11 million people are threatened with hunger in nine countries in the region. The countries of southern Africa have experienced normal rainfall in only one of the past five growing seasons.
Each morning rangers pray for rain. It’s beginning to get really serious and may get even worse if it doesn’t rain. The last substantial rains came in April.
An early end to a “very poor rainy season” has resulted in insufficient natural vegetation to see the animals through.
At just 5% of its normal size, Long Pool is one of the few remaining water sources across the park’s plains.
On a recent day, hippos were submerged in some puddles to try to keep their skin from drying out in the extreme heat while birds picked at catfish stranded in the mud.
Two others of Mana’s pools have completely dried up, while the third is just 20% to 30% of its usual size and dwindling.
In past years, Mana Pools would get up to 24 inches (600 millimeters) of rain per year. Now it’s lucky to get half of that.
There are more than 12,000 elephants roaming Mana’s flood plains. Zimbabwe has an estimated 85,000 elephants and neighboring Botswana has more than 130,000.
A very dramatic situation for elephants and all other animals trying to survive the unprecedented drought in Zimbabwe. [CBS News]