HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A helicopter guards thousands of impalas in an enclosure. A crane lifted 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 (435 miles) to transport the animals to their new home.
Zimbabwe has begun moving more than 2,500 wild animals from a southern reserve to one in the country’s north to save them from drought, as the ravages of climate change replace poaching as the biggest threat to wildlife. Zoe.
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 being transported by Save Conservancy Zimbabwe to the northern part of the Save Conservancy Valley. Matusadonha and Chizarira — in one of South Africa’s largest live animal capture and translocation exercises.
Project Rewild Zambezi, as the operation is called, is moving the animals to an area in the Zambezi River Valley to rebuild wildlife populations there.
It is the first time in 60 years that Zimbabwe has embarked on such a massive internal movement of wildlife. Between 1958 and 1964, when the country was white-ruled Rhodesia, more than 5,000 animals were moved in what was called “Operation Noah.” This operation saved wildlife from rising water caused by the construction of a huge hydroelectric dam on the Zambezi River that created one of the world’s largest man-made lakes, Lake Kariba.
This time it is the lack of water that has necessitated the movement of the wildlife as their habitat has been dried up by the prolonged drought, said Tinashe Farawo, a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
The park service issued permits to allow the animals to be moved to avoid “a disaster,” Farawo said.
“We do this to reduce the pressure. For years we have been fighting poaching and just as we are winning this war, climate change has emerged as 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, becoming a danger to themselves and encroaching on neighboring human settlements for food resulting in incessant conflicts,” he said.
One option would be culling to reduce wildlife numbers, but conservation groups complain that such killings are cruel. Zimbabwe last executed a cull in 1987, Farawo said.
The effects of climate change on wildlife are not isolated to Zimbabwe. Across Africa, national parks that are home to myriad species of wildlife such as lions, elephants and buffalo are increasingly threatened by below-average rainfall and new infrastructure projects. Authorities and experts say the drought has seriously threatened species such as rhinos, giraffes and antelopes as it reduces the amount of food available.
For example, a recent study conducted in South Africa’s Kruger National Park linked extreme weather events to the loss of plants and animals, unable to cope with harsh conditions and water shortages due to greater drought and higher temperatures.
The grassroots movement is supported by the Great Plains Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works “to preserve and expand natural habitats in Africa through innovative conservation initiatives,” according to its website. The agency is working with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, local experts, the University of Washington-Seattle Environmental Forensic Science Center and the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, according to the website.
One of the new homes for the animals brought to Zimbabwe is the Sapi Reserve. the 280,000 hectare private property lies east of Mana Pools National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its magnificent setting along the Zambezi River which forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Sapi “is the perfect solution for many reasons,” Great Plains CEO Dereck Joubert said on the foundation’s website.
“This reserve forms the biosphere of the middle Zambezi, totaling 1.6 million hectares,” Joubert wrote. “From the 1950s until we realized it in 2017, decades of hunting had decimated the wildlife populations in the Sapi Reserve. We’re re-cultivating and restoring the wild to what it once was.”