Shared from the 11/7/2019 The Denver Post eEdition By Farai Mutsaka The Associated Press
MANA POOLS, ZIMBABWE» Weak from hunger and thirst, the elephant struggled to reach a pool of water in this African wildlife reserve. But the majestic mammal got stuck in the mud surrounding the sun-baked watering hole, which had dramatically shrunk because of a severe drought.
Eventually, park staff members freed the trapped elephant, but it collapsed and died. Just yards away lay the carcass of a Cape buffalo that had also been pulled from the mud, but was attacked by hungry lions.
Elephants, zebras, hippos, impalas, buffaloes and many other wildlife are stressed by lack of food and water in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, whose very name comes from the four pools of water usually filled by the flooding Zambezi River each rainy season, and where wildlife traditionally drink. The word “mana” means four in the Shona language.
At least 105 elephants have died in Zimbabwe’s wildlife reserves, most of them in Mana and the larger Hwange National Park in the past two months, according to the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Many desperate animals are straying from Zimbabwe’s parks into nearby communities in search of food and water.
Mana Pools, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its splendid setting along the Zambezi River, annually experiences hot, dry weather at this time of year. But this year it’s far worse as a result of poor rains last year. Even the river’s flow has reduced.
The drought parching southern Africa is also affecting people. An estimated 11 million people are threatened with hunger in nine countries in the region, according to the World Food Program, which is planning large-scale food distribution. The countries of southern Africa have experienced normal rainfall in only one of the past five growing seasons, it said.
Seasonal rains are expected soon, but parks officials and wildlife lovers, fearing that too many animals will die before then, are bringing in food to help the distressed animals. The extremely harsh conditions persuaded park authorities to abandon their usual policy of not intervening.
Each morning, Munyaradzi Dzoro, a parks agency wildlife officer, prays for rain.
“It’s beginning to be serious,” he said.
An early end to a “very poor rainy season” has resulted in insufficient natural vegetation to see the animals through, said Mel Hood, who is participating in the Feed Mana project, which is providing supplementary feeding.
Separated from neighboring Zambia by the Zambezi, the region’s once reliable sources of water have turned into death traps for animals desperate to reach the muddy ponds. Like the elephant and buffalo, many other animals in the park have gotten stuck in the clay while trying to reach Long Pool, the largest of the watering holes at 3 miles long.
At just 5% of its normal size, Long Pool is one of the few remaining water sources across the park’s plains. On a recent day, hippos were submerged in some puddles to try to keep their skin from drying out in the extreme heat. Two others of Mana’s pools have completely dried up, while the third is just 20% to 30% of its usual size and dwindling, Dzoro said.
There are more than 12,000 elephants roaming Mana’s flood plains as well as an abundance of lions, buffaloes, zebras, wild dogs, hyenas, zebras and elands. The animals are visibly affected by the drought. Some impalas show signs of skin mange. In addition to the land animals, the park has 350 bird and aquatic species, according to the parks agency.
With the acacias, other indigenous trees and grasses that provide the bulk of food for herbivores like elephants and buffaloes also decimated by the drought, authorities began supplementary feeding in July.
The Feed Mana project has so far trucked 14,000 bales of hay to the park, said Hood, the animal welfare campaigner.
“Although it may not be enough to stave off all the hunger pangs, it is certainly giving these animals a chance to survive until conditions improve,” Hood said.