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Zimbabwe's severe drought killing elephants, other wildlife

Severe drought
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Severe drought

Weak from hunger and thirst, the elephant struggled to reach a pool of water in this African wildlife reserve. But the majestic mammal got stuck in the mud surrounding the sun-baked watering hole, which had dramatically shrunk due to a severe drought.

Eventually park staff freed the trapped elephant, but it collapsed and died. Just yards (meters) away lay the carcass of a Cape buffalo that had also been pulled from the mud, but was attacked by hungry lions.

Elephants, zebras, hippos, impalas, buffaloes and many other wildlife are stressed by lack of food and water in Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park, whose very name comes from the four pools of water normally filled by the flooding Zambezi River each rainy season, and where wildlife traditionally drink. The word ``mana'' means four in the Shona language.

AP
Nearly 105 elephants died
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Nearly 105 elephants died

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 the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Many desperate animals are straying from Zimbabwe's parks into nearby communities in search of food and water.

Mana Pools, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its splendid setting along the Zambezi River, annually experiences hot, dry weather at this time of year. But this year it's far worse as a result of poor rains last year. Even the river's flow has reduced.

AP
Praying for rain
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Praying for rain

The drought parching southern Africa is also affecting people. An estimated 11 million people are threatened with hunger in nine countries in the region, according to the World Food Program, which is planning large-scale food distribution. The countries of southern Africa have experienced normal rainfall in only one of the past five growing seasons, it said.

Seasonal rains are expected soon, but parks officials and wildlife lovers, fearing that too many animals will die before then, are bringing in food to help the distressed animals. The extremely harsh conditions persuaded park authorities to abandon their usual policy of not intervening.

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

AP
Barren flood plains, 45 degree temprature
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Barren flood plains, 45 degree temprature

"It's beginning to be serious,'' he said, standing next to the remains of the elephant and buffalo. ``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 participating in the Feed Mana project, which is providing supplementary feeding.

Most of the animals in Mana Pools ``are more or less confined to the barren flood plains,'' where temperatures soar to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius), she said.

BCCL
 The "death traps"
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The "death traps"

Separated from neighboring Zambia by the Zambezi, the region's once reliable sources of water have turned into death traps for animals desperate to reach the muddy ponds. Like the elephant and buffalo, many other animals in the park have gotten stuck in the clay while trying to reach Long Pool, the largest of the watering holes at 3 miles (5 kilometers) long.

The animals were pulled out by rangers, but they could not survive predators on the pounce for weak prey.

``The carnivores attacked it from behind,'' Dzoro said of the buffalo. The elephant carcass had been there for almost a week and emitted a strong stench as flies feasted on it.

At just 5% of its normal size, Long Pool is one of the few remaining water sources across the park's plains. On a recent day, hippos were submerged in some puddles to try to keep their skin from drying out in the extreme heat while birds picked at catfish stranded in the mud.

AP
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