Zimbabwe's big game, which once helped make the country's national parks one of Africa's prime tourist attractions, are dying in record numbers because of a man-made water crisis.
The systems of pumps, pipes and water bores that serve the game reserves have collapsed as the state, itself on the verge of bankruptcy, has stopped funding the national park service.
In Hwange National Park, many of the pumps have been vandalised or stolen by militant war veterans who have invaded and settled the land with government connivance. Animals are being shot for food and Zimbabwe's unpaid park rangers are unable to intervene because they have no fuel.
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, a non-governmental organisation, said at least 400 elephants had died in Hwange alone, which supports one of Africa's largest elephant populations. Buffalo, kudu, impala and other species are dying in large numbers.
"Most of the deaths are due to dehydration," Mr Rodrigues said yesterday. "There is drought but there is a lot of water underground which needs to be pumped. This cannot be done because everything is broken down and they can't fix anything."
He said most of the department's vehicles were disabled, lacking spares, tyres and diesel to move into the park and repair broken pumps. Zimbabwean wildlife authorities have appealed to neighbouring countries to take some of the ailing elephants but some have refused, saying they are burdened with large populations. The Namibian government was the first to publicly reject Zimbabwe's request.
Hwange National Park was established by colonial authorities 76 years ago and is home to some of the world's rarest species. The elephant population in Zimbabwe is estimated at 100,000, one of the largest on the continent.
Zimbabwe's once-robust economy is in freefall, with inflation running at over 400 per cent. Basic services have ground to a halt and there is little running water or electricity. Vice-President Joice Mujuru said the government had no money to import fuel as it had to use the little foreign currency it had to buy maize to feed more than four million people facing starvation.Reuse content