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When nature mocks its own

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By: Leroy Dzenga — Nov13,2020 — 0 Comments

In early October, there were rains in Zimbabwe for a period of about a week.

Farmers frantically made efforts to plant, trying not to miss what they interpreted as the beginning of the rainy season. 

It ended in tears, what the early bird saw as a worm was indeed a snaring trap.

Those who planted are counting their losses, after the seeds they planted did not even sprout to wilt.

However, it is not only farmers who were let down by the elusive rains.

Animals, too, were misled.

Wild animals at Hwange National Park, the largest nature reserve in Zimbabwe, had moved to near water holes as temperatures continued to soar.

Some boreholes in the national park drilled to ameliorate the water shortage ran dry as the dry spell in the already hot Hwange.

When the early rain episode occurred in October, some especially the young cubs moved away from water sources assuming that the rains are here and they can access drinking water anywhere.

Explaining the circumstances, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) spokesperson Tinashe Farawo said the 

“When we receive early rains, most of the animals move away from water holes. The early rains are followed by a dry spell, so the animals, which would have moved from the water holes they will be under, stress trying to move back in search of water at the water holes,” he said.

Farawo said the great trek back to water holes consumes some animals, as natural selection kicks in.

“We are likely to experience some mortalities, especially for the young animals which may not be able to endure the distances,” said Farawo.

Among the most affected animals are elephants, which scientists say endure the most strain during droughts and dry spells.

A study by Joseph Dudley, Deborah Gibson, Gary Hanes and Janis Klimowicz (“Drought mortality of bush elephants at Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe”) explores the matter.

“Incidental observations of alive and but moribund elephants, and post-mortem inspections of intact elephant carcasses indicated that most deaths were attributable to debilitation from chronic dehydration and starvation with injuries,” Dudley et al found.

Water challenges have been a persistent problem at Hwange national park.

In 2019, more than 200 elephants died due to drought.

Other species like buffalos, giraffe and impala are dying and only the rains can save them.

Those that survive in some cases stray into nearby villages in search of water and such excursions often bring tragic tales.

According to the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, the drought situation in the country has increased the probability of human and wildlife conflict.

“There has been increased frequency at which wild animals are now straying into human settlements, as observed by Hwange residents in July this year. This is scaring commuters and mine workers. Elephants have reportedly destroyed water pipes as they search for drinking water in Hwange town. 

In the past three months elephants have caused havoc in Number 1, 2 and 5 suburbs of Hwange town as well as Chibondo and Shangano villages of Hwange rural,” wrote the CNRG spokesperson Simiso Mlevu.

When nature betrays its own humans chip in.

In Jutshume Village near Hwange National Park, right at the Zimbabwe-Botswana border, villagers have resorted to assisting animals, which stray into their vicinity in search of the precious liquid.

End of last year, villagers in Jutshume rescued a baby elephant, which had fallen into a well seeking to drink water.

They also helped resuscitate another heavily dehydrated animal by giving it water until it regained consciousness. 

Jutshume residents are willing to help animals but they are hoping for a more sustainable solution.

They are hoping that Maitengwe dam, which used to be the source of water for animals until its collapse in 2005, is restored to avoid future encounters.

It is not the only infrastructure which needs restoration, around June thieves stole US$50,000 worth of solar panels installed to pump water for wildlife in Hwange National Park.

Zimparks at the time offered US$2,500 as reward for information leading to the recovery of the panels but the overture did not lead to any recovery.

About 80 percent of boreholes at Hwange national park are solar powered.

Some boreholes are either dry due to depleted water levels or vandalism.

Authorities are pinning their hopes on rains, which seem to be readying to fall over Zimbabwe.

According to the Zimbabwe Meteorological Services, there should be an episode of thunderstorms around Matabeleland South, Midlands, Masvingo and Bulawayo Metropolitan provinces.

The rains, expected to be around 30mm, are likely to offer some reprieve to dying animals.

It is not yet clear if the rains will be sustained, so if someone could whisper to those animals, they would tell them to remain close to the waterholes for the rainy season does not appear to be upon us as yet.