Last week, authorities in Zimbabwe said that 105 elephants had died in the past two months due to a severe drought spanning the country. Now, the death toll has risen to 200, officials said. 

At least 200 elephants have died in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo told The Associated Press. A mass relocation of animals is planned to try to limit future deaths. 

Other animals, including giraffes, zebras, hippos, impalas and buffaloes are also dying due to the drought. The situation cannot improve until it rains in the region, Farawo said.

"Almost every animal is being affected," he told AP. "Of course, elephants are easily noticed during patrols or game drives, but some bird species are seriously affected because they can only breed in certain tree heights and those trees are being knocked down by elephants."

In a desperate attempt to locate food and water, animals have strayed from the park and into nearby communities, threatening human populations as well. Thirty-three people have died from conflict with animals this year, the park said. 

Six hundred elephants and two lion prides will be moved to less congested parks. A pack of wild dogs, 50 buffalo, 40 giraffe and 2,000 impalas also will be relocated, Farawo said.

The animals "have exceeded their ecological carrying capacity," he added. "If the populations go unchecked, the animals will threaten the very ecosystem they depend on for survival."

Typically, park authorities follow a policy of not intervening to help the animals, but the harsh conditions have persuaded them otherwise. Fearing more deaths before the rainy season, they have started bringing in food to help the animals, which usually rely on natural vegetation. 

"We used to say nature should take its course," said wildlife officer Munyaradzi Dzoro. "We are now forced to intervene, which is manipulative conservation, because we are not sure when and how we will receive the rain. To avoid losing animals we have to intervene to maintain population sizes."

In addition to a lack of food and water, muddy ponds have turned into death traps for the animals. Many have gotten stuck in the clay while attempting to reach Long Pool, the park's largest watering hole, which has shrunk to 5% of its normal size, AP reports. 

Mana Pools, a UNESCO World Heritage Site along the Zambezi River, annually experiences hot, dry weather at this time of year, according to AP. But poor rainfall last year has led to far worse droughts than usual, and the country is severely affected by climate change that has impacted weather patterns.

The drought has affected an estimated 11 million people, according to the World Food Program, which is planning large-scale food distribution. 

Zimbabwe and neighboring Botswana have the largest elephant populations in the world, with 85,000 and 130,000, respectively. Officials in Zimbabwe say they are struggling to cope with the population, and are looking to sell ivory stockpiles and export live elephants to raise money for conservation and ease congestion in the parks. 

First published on November 12, 2019 / 4:39 PM

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