Drought Forces Zimbabwe to Relocate 2,500 Wild Animals to New Reserve

Is the climate crisis replacing poaching as the biggest threat to wildlife?

MALAWI-MACHINGA-WILDLIFE CONSERVATION-ANIMALS-TRANSLOCATION
Wildlife officers load an elephant into a truck at Liwonde National Park in Machinga, Malawi, July 10, 2022. In neighboring Zimbabwe, more than 2,500 wild animals are being moved from a southern reserve to one in the country's north. Joseph Mizere / Xinhua / Getty Images
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The effects of climate change are outpacing poaching as the No. 1 threat to wildlife. In Zimbabwe, officials are now moving more than 2,500 wild animals from a reserve in the southern part of the country further north due to an ongoing drought. Rangers are relying on trucks, cranes and even helicopters to move the animals from the drought-stricken area.

“Project Rewild Zambezi,” the operation has been dubbed, involves moving animals to the Zambezi River valley, which will also help improve wildlife populations in that area. It is one of the largest live animal relocation projects in southern Africa, with more than 2,000 impalas, 400 elephants, 70 giraffes, 50 each of buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, and elands, 10 lions and 10 wild dogs, among other animals, being moved north.

The animals are being relocated from the Save Valley Conservancy to the Sapi, Matusadonha and Chizarira conservancies in the north. According to officials, the project is necessary to avoid a crisis.

“We are doing this to relieve pressure. For years we have fought poaching and just as we are winning that war, climate change has emerged as the biggest threat to our wildlife,” Tinashe Farawo, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, told The Associated Press. “Many of our parks are becoming overpopulated and there is little water or food. The animals end up destroying their own habitat, they become a danger unto themselves and they encroach neighboring human settlements for food resulting in incessant conflict.”

One other option was to cull some of the animals to reduce competition for resources among the wildlife, but Zimbabwe has not had a culling since 1987. Conservationists argue that culling is a cruel and unnecessary solution.

The “Project Rewild Zambezi” is one of the largest in Zimbabwe. The country’s last mass relocation of wildlife occurred from 1958 to 1964, as hydro-dam construction led to rising water that ultimately created Lake Kariba. More than 5,000 animals had to be relocated at the time.

Drought is becoming an increasing threat in Zimbabwe and across Africa, reducing food and water available for wildlife, including vulnerable rhinos and giraffes. But hunting and poaching have also taken their toll. In Sapi Reserve, a UNESCO site, wildlife populations quickly declined from the 1950s until 2017, when it was taken over by the non-profit Great Plains Foundation. Relocating animals from areas affected by drought will also help in the foundation’s efforts to rewild and restore populations in Sapi Reserve.

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