Wet spell saves Zimbabwe wildlife
THE wet spell that has swept across the country over the last three months has rescued a potential wildlife crisis caused by drought which wreaked havoc in southern Africa between October and January.
The drought was brought about by the El Nino weather phenomenon which, according to meteorologists, has now given way to La Nina.
The El Nino effects include reversal of wind patterns across the Pacific, triggering drought in Africa, Australasia, and unseasonal heavy rain in the Americas and Europe.
La Nina does the opposite.
Since the beginning of Zimbabwe’s traditional rain season in October last year, the country has received below normal rainfall across the country.
The country also experienced unprecedented heat levels, which broke previous records, with some areas registering temperatures as high as 48 degrees Celsius.
The drought, which has also caused a famine, was threatening to wipe out the country’s wildlife resources, with pastures vanishing and water sources drying up.
Although the crop situation can no longer be rescued, with government conceding that at least three million people already require urgent food aid, wildlife has been given a new lease of life.
Environment, Water and Climate Minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, first raised the red flag in January, warning that there would be disaster if water sources continued to diminish in the country’s national parks and conservancies.
She appealed to corporates and the international community to assist government drill boreholes in wildlife sanctuaries to help the animals survive.
While these boreholes would provide drinking water for the animals, government had no solution to dwindling pastures for animals like elephants, buffaloes, rhinos and other endangered species.
Depleting water sources were also seen as helping poachers since the animals would be severely vulnerable.
The country has recently struggled to contain the poaching crisis, highlighted by the massacre of hundreds of elephants through cyanide poisoning.
Elephants are now on a red list after being identified by conservationists as facing extinction due to a combination of human activity, such as poaching, and natural effects.
Poachers normally operate during the drier periods between August and November.
And with most of Zimbabwe’s wildlife areas being located along borderlines where countries are separated by rivers, whose levels recede during the period.
Poachers easily cross the rivers during this period, raiding animals in such prime wildlife sanctuaries like Hwange and Gonarezhou National Parks.
These are Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife zones which flourish with various species of animals.
In an interview with the Financial Gazette this week, Muchinguri said government was satisfied with the current wet spell as it had brought life back to these areas.
“Generally, we have received adequate rainfall over the past weeks, which has helped revive the situation in our national parks,” she said.
“I would like to report that 60 percent of the country now has received above normal rainfall and we are very pleased because it gives a signal that there is life now in our national parks. I have since shared with Cabinet that the situation in those parks has improved a lot,” she added.
Figures from the meteorological services department show that Hwange National Park, Mana Pools and Gonarezhou have all recorded an average of 60mm rainfall per day over the past week.
Muchinguri said: “We are very happy with that because the rainfall will help improve the water levels and pastures, which means animals will have enough food and water to drink.”
Government, she said, has since shelved its plans to drill at least 60 boreholes to add to the current 65 that exist in the national parks.
“The pressure that we were under of wanting to drill 60 boreholes to add to the existing 65 in our parks is a situation we are evaluating to see if we still require them since we have received so much rainfall which has been forecast to continue,” she said.
Research has proved that prolonged drought conditions can negatively affect wildlife.
One study done by United States National Wildlife Health Centre shows that drought conditions can affect wildlife populations in many ways — from changing homeland ranges in an effort to find water and food to creating conditions that can impact their health.
As drought conditions worsen, wildlife will seek alternative habitats where conditions are more favourable for them to raise their young, seek shelter and get water supplies.
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