El Nino drought massacres wildlife in Zimbabwe

Hwange National Park faces a devastating loss of wildlife, including elephants, due to severe drought, intensified by the ongoing El Nino climate effect, signaling broader challenges for Zimbabwe's wildlife

Jeffrey Moyo  | 29.12.2023 - Update : 30.12.2023
El Nino drought massacres wildlife in Zimbabwe

- The dire consequences of drought extend beyond hunger and thirst, as emaciated animals become targets for poachers, raising concerns about the survival of vulnerable species

- Dwindling water sources in national parks like Hwange force weakened animals, pushing them to migrate in search of scarce resources, exacerbating the regional wildlife crisis as animals in Southern Africa face rising food insecurity

HARARE, Zimbabwe 

Hundreds of kilometers north of Zimbabwe's capital Harare, the Hwange National Park mourned the loss of 15 elephants who succumbed to hunger and thirst — only part of a death toll of roughly 100 elephants who perished.

That was just the beginning.

Days later, 16 buffalo died in the Matetsi region 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of Hwange under similar circumstances, all this in the middle of a rampaging El Nino climate effect characterized by extreme heat, drying up waterholes in the national park, in particular.

Severe weather

Extreme temperatures have been a hallmark of the climate crisis in the Southern African nation of Zimbabwe, where disruptions in rainfall have wrought havoc on the country's wildlife.

This is not the first El Nino-induced drought that has claimed animal lives in Zimbabwe.

In 2019, less than five years ago, more than 200 Zimbabwean elephants perished in a severe drought, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

The elephant population stands at 45,000 in Hwange National Park, with a fully grown elephant needing about 200 liters of water daily.

But this year's rainy season in Zimbabwe, running from November to March, has seen barely any precipitation so far with this year's El Nino effect, according to the country's Meteorological Services, which predicted that the current drought will continue into 2024.


Zimbabwe’s wildlife deaths are taking a toll not only in Hwange, but countrywide, with a deepening threat of poaching of animals already emaciated by the severe drought.

Even villagers around Hwange fear the animals will be wiped out by marauding poachers as the catastrophic water shortage rages on.

"Poachers know most of the animals, like elephants, are now weakened by lack of water and food and they are taking advantage as they slaughter the desperate animals to extract ivory," Msimanga Tshuma, one of the residents in Hwange, told Anadolu.


With animals weakened as they are by the drought, many are forced to migrate across national borders in search of food and water, only to find that water remains scarce across the region.

In neighboring Botswana, for instance, drought has also piled misery upon the country's wild animals.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), set up by the US Agency for International Development and Department of State, the whole of Southern Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in years, with more than 20 million people expected to face food insecurity because of livestock and crop losses that are not sparing wildlife.

The ongoing El Nino effect, forecast to reach peak intensity in late 2023 and dissipate by mid-2024, is expected to drive below-average rainfall across much of Southern Africa, endangering wildlife.

Conservationist Leonard Zwide, who is based in the Zimbabwean town of Victoria Falls, said animals in national parks are "succumbing to drought because firstly, authorities have not had plans to sustain them in the likelihood of a drought like the current one."

"Secondly, there are waterholes that are often filled with solar-powered boreholes, but with the drought setting in, these boreholes have had dropping water tables and this has been known, but no precautionary measures have been taken on time to make sure animals will still have water," said Zwide.

Dwindling water sources

Many national wildlife parks, like Hwange, have no major rivers running through them, meaning less access to surface water.

The only water sources available in places like Hwange are dwindling, with the solar-powered pumps at 104 boreholes or wells unable to draw enough water to meet the needs of wildlife.

Now, since elephants are water-dependent, according to Daphine Madhlamoto, chief ecologist of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) at Hwange, "we are recording more deaths."

IFAW has gone on record saying summer rains in Zimbabwe are weeks away amid the rampaging El Nino.

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