Zim weighs cost of too many elephants

2012-10-23 07:50

Hwange - A herd of elephants hobbles past a cluster of acacia trees to a water-hole deep in Zimbabwe's vast Hwange game reserve, attracted by the drone of generators pumping water round the clock into the pool.

With the elephant population ballooning, wildlife authorities have resorted to using 45 generators, each consuming 200 litres of diesel a week from June to November, to ensure the animals can get water.

The strategy appears to be working. So far this year around 17 elephants have died in the area due to the extreme heat and lack of water, compared to 77 last year.

"The elephants drink close to 90% of all the water [pumped] here," said Edwin Makuwe, an ecologist with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority,

"I think elephants now know that when they hear an engine running, chances are that there is water close by."

But the water, while life-preserving, may be running against the flow of nature.

The 14 600-square-kilometre reserve is home to between 35 000 to 40 000 elephants, twice its capacity.

The increase in the elephant population has led to higher demand for water at the park, home to over 100 different species of animals including the "Big Five": elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and the endangered rhinoceros.

Makuwe said the rise in the elephant population at the game reserve, established in 1949, had also led to the destruction of the environment.

Negative effect

"There is so much activity by the elephants that the vegetation has been affected negatively, the trees are no longer growing as fast as they should."

"[The trees] are no longer producing as many seeds as they should. In the long term this will have a negative effect on the entire habitat of Hwange."

He said the quality of the forage had gone down, with elephants stripping tree barks and digging roots for food.

"The African savannah is supposed to be a mosaic of trees and grasses. The moment you start to have more grasslands than trees it is not functioning as African savannah."

Makuwe fears small animals and insects who live in the trees risk extinction.

"If you lose the trees and you are left with the grasslands, then definitely some of the species will be lost," he said.

The authorities are yet to find a solution.

"Some people advocate to let nature take its course ... [but] we are yet to find a method which can convince all the people to accept and bring down the [elephant] population," Makuwe added.

With tourists, who have shunned the country over the years, slowly returning, there is little incentive to cull the main attraction.

In the meantime, Tom Milliken, of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said elephants in Hwange were suffering greatly due to the water shortages.

"This is the worst time of the year for elephants and we still have a month before the rains come," he told AFP. "Elephants have most stress this time of the year when there is no water."

  • sisie.indola - 2012-10-23 08:27

    Next you will be making the excuse that because there are so many elephants you need to cull (the whole lot) how much have the chinese offered to pay you for the ivory?

      Jane - 2012-10-23 08:44

      I really don't think ivory is the issue here, there is a real problem, when there is not enough water or vegetation for these huge animals. Surely they could be given to other countries who would be able to look after them? It would be absolutely heartbreaking to have to have these intelligent, sensitive animals culled.

      megan.caldwell.927 - 2012-10-23 11:08

      You obvioulsy have'nt been there lately!!! I was there 3 weeks ago. There is no grass, not bushes and no trees at a level where other animals can reach them. If something isn't done about the population of elephants, then other animals will die too. In the interest of wildlife conservation, sometimes sacrifices need to be made for the greater good. I'm not a huge fan of culling, but this situation is becoming dire. There are elephant carcases at almost every water hole because the nutritive value of bark is very poor, so the elephants are also suffering due to lack of food.

      danie.strydom.7 - 2012-10-26 12:43

      Clear the roads and lead the elephants to Harare. Surely elephants can rule Zim better tan Bob. Go on Jumbo, Uncle Bob has a nice swimming pool

  • horst.muller.7330 - 2012-10-23 08:54

    Obviously some culling is needed here, sorry for the elephants, its not their fault. Fault lies with humans who installed the pumps in the first place thus interfering with nature.

  • dewald.vanderwalt - 2012-10-23 09:47

    At last they are realising there is a problem. The fundamentals of conservation is to first protect the soil, as the baseline that sustains all life, there after the vegetation and the small creatures, and only then the mammals who are dependent on all of the above. One can not over state the damage that has been done to the southern african ecosystems by the "no culling" approach adopted by CITIES, the very organisation that should be responsible for the protection of ALL the endangered species. Not to mention the income that can be generated from the venison, hides and bones of the animals culled to be ploughed back into conservation

      mark.a.fysh - 2012-10-23 21:50

      And this was a problem 15 years ago when I visited the park. The juvenile trees were already blasted and semi-shredded. Even then, they talked about losing diversity because of the elephant population (about 25 000 then). I agree - if culling is not instituted, nature will do it in a crueler way and take a lot more than elephants with it.

  • dewald.vanderwalt - 2012-10-23 17:20

    You clowns... Land is not the issue here, it is water. The very resource that dwindles away more and more rapidly as the topsoil and vegetation gets damaged by the overpopulation of the elephants. By maintaining a population that is under carrying capacity the future of all the effected species are ensured...

  • peter.vanzyl.39 - 2012-11-02 12:08

    This report is not entirely true. These Ellies move FREELY between Hwange and Botswana, and are known to move from Hwange as far Northwest as lintanti and also Chobe, and from thence into Namibia Zambia and even Angola, now that human conflict is no longer a deterrent to them. Hwange lies,on the most part on dry Kalahari soils, which support mainly Mopane. There is No running water (rivers)in the Northern half of Hwange, and the standing pools (GROUNDWATER) in the south are generally very shallow, so also only last for a few months into winter.Water has always been a major issue in the park,since the formation in the 1920,s. People and Pasturalists are the problem on both sides of the border with BOTS now. The ellies old traversing routes have been blocked, and it is now far easier to stay put than try to navigate around the "plantations" in Bots between Nata and way past Panda.Also the mines that have sprung up, both inside the NW of Hwange and just outside, have blocked them from moving towards the Deka. Get rid of the people in their way, and the water problem will begin to diminish!

  • markopolozw - 2012-11-29 16:58

    guess they aint no elephants where u stay traveldont confine yoursel to your couch or rather watch Nat Geo ull get more informed

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