Cape Town - Over the past year, South Africa has been hit with one of the most severe droughts in a decade.
The consequences have been shocking, impacting the lives of humans, animals and the South African landscape.
In the Kruger National Park, where the country's highest number of wild animals roam relatively freely inside the park's borders, the effect of the drought has been an issue managed needed to address.
Albeit controversial, the culling of hippo and buffalo started in May this year, as a means to alleviate pressures on the species, and well as to aid the surrounding communities of the Kruger.
SANParks' decision to cull the most affected species is a humane and understandable solution once you've seen the most drought-stricken parts of the Kruger.
On a recent visit to the north-western border of the Kruger, close to the Pafuri gate, a buffalo spotted laying down in the mud - literally on its last breath - made it clear that culling the suffering animals before they reach this stage would be a much better option...
Despite us being very close to the animal, it was too weak to even pull itself up from the mud.
There's no denying that nature's forces are beyond our understanding, and beyond our control too. But the recent increase in sightings of aggregated hippo in the Kruger National Park is a sure indication that pressure on the species is heavy.
Hippo are notoriously aggressive and short-tempered animals. And with the drying up of scarce water resources, high numbers of animals in the park and a shortage of food, the pressure has increased even more.
Hippo are having to trek long distances in search of water, their sensitive skins exposed to the blazing sun. So when a hippo detects a treat, its first reaction is to attack.
Less than two weeks ago, a hippo standing on a bridge between Mozambique and the Kruger chomped down on a bakkie with the owner inside.
And at the beginning of November, in a separate incident, another hippo bit into a Land Rover when it was charged down by a pride of lions.
According to Kruger ranger and Kruger’s Conservation Management official Vanessa Strydom, the hippo are having a really bad time in trying to cope with the pressure of the drought, and that's what might be causing the increased reported cases of aggression outbursts.
Not all negative
Despite the dire circumstances, the drought isn't all negative.
Strydom says the drought is nature's way of re-establishing order and balance in the natural landscape, and with the current conditions, she says they've seen an interesting shift in the balance due to the effects of the drought.
It's not only played a major part in bringing down the numbers of high concentration animals - that have skyrocketed beyond control over the past years. The declining numbers of the hippo and buffalo, among others, have created more opportunities for other, smaller species to flourish.
According to Strydom, smaller species like pangolin, wild dogs and other sightings have increased during the drought, showing that other animals are getting their place in the sun too.
The Kruger has received some rain over the past month, bringing with it much-needed relief in the park. Visitors, however, are urged to be on the lookout for tortoises that frequent the roads during this time.
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