At least 55 elephants have starved to death since September in Zimbabwe’s biggest national park as the nation faces its worst drought in recent years, officials said Monday.
The carcasses were found near watering holes at the Hwange National Park, Zimparks spokesman Tinashe Farawo told Reuters. The lack of food and water forced the animals to travel great distances in search of something to eat or drink.
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“The situation is dire,” Farawo said. “The elephants are dying from starvation and this is a big problem.”
Officials at Hwange said they want to drill more water holes to accommodate an overcrowded elephant population amid the drought, but lack the money to do so.
Other animals such as lions at the park have also been affected.
The hungry and thirsty animals sometimes wander into villages, causing “massive destruction” to vegetation and have even killed people, Farawo said, adding that more than 20 people have been killed this year alone.
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Zimbabwe has one of Africa’s largest elephant populations, with overcrowding adding to the problems caused by the drought. The park can handle 15,000 elephants but currently has about 53,000, Farawo said.
“The single biggest threat to our animals now is loss of habitat,” Farawo said. “We have managed to significantly reduce poaching … we were losing hundreds of elephants in past years, but last year we only lost not more than 20 to poaching.”
Animals have strayed from the park in search of food and water, sometimes wandering into human villages, Farawo said.
The park, which is not government funded, has been trying to drill more wells to make up for the ones that have dried up, but is lacking the money to do so, Farawo told Reuters.
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Zimbabwe reportedly said it could earn revenue is by selling its $300 million ivory stockpile. However, the country failed to lobby the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to lift the ban on the ivory trade in August.
The drought comes as the southern African nation faces troubles from a collapsing economy that has resulted in massive food and water shortages to its population.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.