An elephant feeds on hay provided by the Food Mana project in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe. Wardens and wildlife lovers are trucking in food to help the animals because more than 100 have died in the past two months. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Elephants, zebras and many other wild animals are stressed by lack of food and water in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, where wildlife traditionally drink.

At least 105 elephants have died in Zimbabwe’s wildlife reserves, most of them in Mana and the larger Hwange National Park in the past two months, according to Zimbabwe wildlife officials.

Mana Pools experiences hot, dry weather this time of year. But this year it’s far worse as a result of poor rains last year. The countries of southern Africa have experienced normal rainfall in only one of the past five growing seasons.

Seasonal rains are expected soon, but parks officials, fearing that too many animals will die before then, are bringing in food to help the distressed animals.

Each morning, Munyaradzi Dzoro, a parks agency wildlife officer, prays for rain.

“It’s beginning to be serious,” he said. “It might be worse if we fail to receive rains” by early November. The last substantial rains came in April, he said.

An early end to a “very poor rainy season” has resulted in insufficient natural vegetation to see the animals through, said Mel Hood, who is helping provide supplementary food.

The region’s once reliable sources of water have turned into death traps for animals desperate to reach the muddy ponds. Many animals in the park have gotten stuck in the clay while trying to reach Long Pool, the largest of the watering holes.


An elephant feeds on leaves from a tree in Mana Pools. Park officials usually let nature take care of itself, but water supplies are so low that officials feared that many more animals would die before more rain arrived. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Two others of Mana’s pools have completely dried up, while the third is just 20 percent to 30 percent of its usual size and dwindling, Dzoro said.

There are more than 12,000 elephants roaming Mana’s flood plains as well as many lions, buffaloes, zebras and other land animals. The park has 350 bird and aquatic species, according to the parks agency.

In other parts of Mana, park authorities are pumping water from deep boreholes, but the supplies are barely enough, Dzoro said.

“We used to say nature should take its course,” said of the park’s normal policy of not intervening and allowing the ecosystem to find its own balance.

“We are now forced to intervene . . . because we are not sure when and how we will receive the rain. To avoid losing animals, we have to intervene to maintain population sizes,” he said.

In past years, Mana Pools would get up to 24 inches of rain per year, said Dzoro. Now it’s lucky to get half that.

With such a dramatic reduction, “we can’t have perennial sources to sustain animals and some of the perennial springs have dried up. Climate change is affecting us. That’s why the manipulative way now is the only way to rescue our fauna,” he said. “Climate change is real for sure, we are witnessing it.”