At least 55 elephants have starved to death in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park over the past two months amid a severe drought.
“The situation is dire,” Zimparks spokesman Tinashe Farawo said. “The elephants are dying from starvation and this is a big problem.”
The drought has massively reduced crop levels in Zimbabwe.
A third of the population is reportedly in need of food aid in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis.
In August, a World Food Programme report said two million people were at risk of starvation in the country.
Some of the elephants were reportedly found within 50 metres (yards) of water pans – suggesting they had travelled far and died just before reaching them.
The elephants have caused “massive destruction” of vegetation in Hwange, Mr Farawo said. The park can handle about 15,000 elephants but currently has more than 50,000.
Zimparks – which does not get government funding – has been trying to drill wells but lacks the money to continue, Mr Farawo added.
Their bodies have been spotted at empty watering holes – at least 55 dead elephants in the past two months alone, the victims of a devastating drought that is now threatening the lives of humans and wildlife alike.
In Zimbabwe’s giant Hwange National Park the problem is not just a lack of rain, but far too many elephants. Overcrowding has prompted the animals to stray outside the park to hunt for food. In the process, officials say, they have already killed 22 local villagers this year.
And behind all this lurks the issue of money. Zimbabwe’s economic crisis means no funds to manage wildlife properly.
One solution is to sell elephants to foreign parks but that – often shadowy – practice has provoked a furious backlash from wildlife experts who say young elephants have been wrenched from their families, traumatised and shipped abroad to unsuitable Chinese zoos.