(ORDO NEWS) — The helicopter drives thousands of impalas into the enclosure. A crane lifts the euthanized upside-down elephants onto trailers.
Hordes of rangers herd other animals into metal cages, and a convoy of trucks begins a journey of about 700 kilometers to deliver the animals to their new home.
Zimbabwe has begun moving more than 2,500 wild animals from a southern reserve to a northern one to save them from drought as the effects of climate change have replaced poaching as the biggest threat to wildlife.
About 400 elephants, 2,000 impalas, 70 giraffes, 50 buffaloes, 50 wild deer, 50 zebras, 50 eland, 10 lions and a pack of 10 wild dogs are among the animals moved from Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy to three reserves in the north of the country – Sapi, Matusadonha and Chizarira – as part of one of South Africa‘s largest live trapping and movement activities.
As part of the “Project Rewild Zambezi”, as the operation is called, the animals are moved to the Zambezi Valley region to restore wildlife populations.
For the first time in 60 years, Zimbabwe has embarked on such a massive inland movement of wildlife. Between 1958 and 1964, when the country was Rhodesia and ruled by white minorities, more than 5,000 animals were transported as part of the so-called “Operation Noah”.
The operation saved wildlife from a surge caused by the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Zambezi River, which created one of the world’s largest man-made lakes, Lake Kariba.
This time around, water shortages have led to the need to relocate wildlife as their habitat has been parched by a prolonged drought, said Tinashe Farawo, a spokesman for the National Parks and Wildlife Authority of Zimbabwe.
The Parks Authority issued a permit to move the animals to prevent a “catastrophe,” Faravo said.
“We’re doing this to ease the pressure. We’ve been fighting poaching for years, and while we’re winning this war, climate change has become the biggest threat to our wildlife,” Faravo told The Associated Press.
“Many of our parks are becoming overcrowded, lacking water and food. Animals are destroying their own habitat, becoming a danger to themselves and invading neighboring human settlements in search of food, leading to ongoing conflict,” he said.
One option could be culling the animals to reduce wildlife numbers, but conservation groups are protesting the brutality of such killings. Zimbabwe last culled in 1987, says Farawo.
The impact of climate change on wildlife is not limited to Zimbabwe. Across Africa, national parks that are home to a vast array of wildlife species such as lions, elephants and buffaloes are increasingly under threat from below-average rainfall and new infrastructure projects.
Authorities and experts say the drought is seriously endangering species such as rhinos, giraffes and antelopes as it reduces the amount of food available.
For example, a recent study in South Africa’s Kruger National Park linked extreme weather events to the death of plants and animals unable to cope with harsh conditions and water shortages due to longer dry periods and hotter temperatures.
The grassroots movement is supported by the Great Plains Foundation, a non-profit organization that works “to preserve and enhance Africa’s natural habitat through innovative conservation initiatives,” according to its website.
The organization is collaborating with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority, local experts, the University of Washington Center for Environmental Forensics in Seattle and the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, the website says.
One of the new animal homes brought to Zimbabwe is the Sapi Game Reserve. This 280,000 acre private concession is located east of Mana Pools National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its prime location along the Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Sapi “is the ideal solution for many reasons,” Great Plains CEO Derek Joubert said on the foundation’s website.
“This reserve forms the biosphere of the middle Zambezi, with a total area of 1.6 million acres,” Joubert wrote. “From the 1950s until we took control in 2017, decades of hunting have reduced wildlife populations in Sapi. We are restoring wildlife and returning it to what it once was. “.
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