The climate crisis forces elephants to march across southern African borders in their quest for water, presenting challenges for national parks and conservation initiatives.
In recent weeks, Zimbabwean officials reported that elephants have been crossing into Botswana, although the exact number of affected elephants remains unknown. This development coincides with a recent survey indicating that elephants are succumbing to heat stress.
Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe collectively house half of the world’s savanna (African bush) elephants, totaling 228,000 elephants. The survey reported a “carcass (mortality) ratio” of 10.5% within the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier conservation area, one of the world’s largest wildlife conservation areas, spanning 520,000 sq kms (210,000 sq miles) across the five states. The report emphasized that the high mortality rate indicated by the carcass ratio necessitates further investigation as a potential warning sign regarding the health and stability of the elephant population.
In Zimbabwe, however, the elephant population had been increasing until recently, leading to pressure on biodiversity and conflicts with local communities as elephants encroach on human habitats in search of water. According to government spokesperson Nick Mangwana, elephants have caused the deaths of 60 Zimbabweans so far this year.
Tinashe Farawo, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), pointed out, “Elephants know no boundaries – they are moving in search of water and food.” While Zimparks has implemented mitigation measures, factors such as inadequate rainfall have posed significant challenges. The reliance on artificial water sources from boreholes has become more common but is an expensive process.
Farawo also noted that various animals, including buffaloes, are also leaving Hwange National Park in significant numbers.
Zimparks estimates that Zimbabwe’s elephant population is around 100,000, with authorities reporting overpopulation in regions such as Hwange, which covers an area of more than 14,600 sq kms (5,600 sq miles) and is home to approximately 50,000 elephants.
Regarding the Elephants march or migration , which commenced in August, Farawo stated, “I cannot quantify how many elephants have moved – whether it’s hundreds or thousands – but it has been a lot.”
In an effort to alleviate overpopulation in Hwange, authorities had planned the transportation of elephants to other areas, such as Gonarezhou in southeast Zimbabwe near the Mozambique border, last year. However, a lack of resources has halted this plan. Farawo explained, “There is no translocation of animals. We would have loved to decongest, but there is nothing like that at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has been lobbying the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to temporarily lift its ban on elephant ivory sales (£480m), which it says keeps growing. The argument is that the proceeds from a one-off sale could be used to boost its conservation efforts.