Zimbabwe moves 2,500 wild animals due to climate change

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — A helicopter rounds up thousands of impalas in an enclosure. A crane hoists sedated elephants upside down into trailers. Hordes of rangers drive other animals into wire cages and a convoy of trucks begins a journey of around 700 kilometers (435 miles) to take the animals to their new homes.

Zimbabwe has started moving more than 2,500 wild animals from one southern reserve to another in the north of the country to save them from drought, as the ravages of climate change replace poaching as the biggest threat to wildlife .

About 400 elephants, 2,000 impalas, 70 giraffes, 50 buffaloes, 50 wildebeests, 50 zebras, 50 elk, 10 lions and a pack of 10 wild dogs are among the animals moved from Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy to three conservancies in the north – Sapi , Matusadonha and Chizarira – in one of Southern Africa’s largest live animal capture and transfer exercises.

“Project Rewild Zambezi”, as the operation is called, relocates animals to an area of ​​the Zambezi River Valley to replenish wildlife populations there.

It is the first time in 60 years that Zimbabwe has embarked on such a massive internal wildlife movement. Between 1958 and 1964, when the country was white minority-ruled Rhodesia, more than 5,000 animals were relocated in what was called “Operation Noah”. This operation saved the wildlife from the rising waters caused by the construction of a huge hydroelectric dam on the Zambezi River which created one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, Lake Kariba.

This time it was the lack of water that made it necessary to relocate wildlife as their habitat was dried out by a prolonged drought, said Tinashe Farawo, spokesperson for the National Parks Management Authority and Zimbabwe wildlife.

The parks agency issued permits to allow the animals to be moved to prevent “disaster from occurring”, Farawo said.

“We do this to relieve the pressure. For years we have fought poaching and the moment we win this war, climate change has become the biggest threat to our wildlife,” Farawo told The Associated Press.

“Many of our parks are becoming overcrowded and there is little water or food. The animals end up destroying their own habitat, they become a danger to themselves, and they encroach on nearby human settlements for food, leading to constant conflict,” he said.

One option would be culling to reduce wildlife numbers, but conservation groups are protesting that such killings are cruel. Zimbabwe last carried out culling in 1987, Farawo said.

The effects of climate change on wildlife are not isolated to Zimbabwe. Across Africa, national parks are home to a myriad of wildlife such as lions, elephants and buffaloes are increasingly threatened by below-average rainfall and new infrastructure projects. Authorities and experts say the drought has seriously threatened species like rhinos, giraffes and antelopes as it reduces the amount of food available.

For example, a recent study conducted in Kruger National Park in South Africa linked extreme weather events to the loss of plants and animals, unable to cope with the drastic conditions and lack of water due to longer dry spells and warmer temperatures.

The mass movement is supported by the Great Plains Foundation, a non-profit organization that works “to conserve and expand natural habitats in Africa through innovative conservation initiatives,” according to its website. The organization is working with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, local experts, the Center for Environmental Forensic Science at the University of Washington-Seattle and the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, according to the website.

One of the new homes for displaced animals in Zimbabwe is the Sapi Reserve. The 280,000-acre private concession is east of Mana Pools National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its stunning setting along the Zambezi River which forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Sapi “is the perfect fit for so many reasons,” Great Plains chief executive Derek Joubert told the foundation’s website.

“This reserve forms the Middle Zambezi Biosphere, totaling 1.6 million acres,” Joubert wrote. “From the 1950s until our takeover in 2017, decades of hunting decimated wildlife populations in the Sapi Game Reserve. We are rescuing and restoring nature to what it once was.

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