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Several southern African countries fear disturbing surge in elephant deaths: 'You will see carcasses dotted around the parks'

"The drought has had an adverse effect."

"The drought has had an adverse effect."

Photo Credit: iStock

Drought in southern Africa is taking a toll on the elephant population. A lack of rain during the recent typically rainy season has made food and water scarce.

What's happening?

The recent strong El Niño contributed to a severe drought in several southern African countries. The period from October through April is normally the rainy season, per NOAA. Instead, hot and dry weather prevailed, limiting the food and water resources that the nearly 230,000 elephants in the region need to survive, as Reuters reported.

"The drought has had an adverse effect and you would notice that most of the watering holes in parks around KAZA are drying up," said Rodney Sikumba, Zambia's minister of environment, per Reuters. "In the absence of water and food, you will see carcasses dotted around the parks."

Why is the plight of elephants in southern Africa important?

Southern Africa is home to the world's biggest population of elephants. Scientists think the extreme drought that started there in late 2023 was the result of both a buildup of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere and a strong El Niño, as Reuters detailed. 

The warming of the eastern Pacific along and near the equator, or El Niño, occurs about every two to seven years, per NOAA. This is linked to below-average rainfall in Southern Africa. The warming of our world is connected to more frequent and intense droughts as the changing climate supercharges the water cycle, as the UCAR Center for Science Education reported.

Drought in Southern Africa is impacting not just elephants but people as well. NASA noted that parts of the region had only half or less of their typical rainfall from late January through the middle of March. Because of the parched land, food security for millions of people is threatened.   

The World Food Programme has issued an "urgent call to action" because the severe drought has impacted more than 30 million people.

Droughts are another example of climate extremes that scientists say are increasing as the world warms. On the other end of the water cycle, research has shown that rising temperatures mean a greater likelihood and intensity of flooding events. According to the EPA, heatwaves are happening more often in major cities nationwide.

Extreme weather is significantly affecting people who don't have the means to mitigate its impact. Southern Africa has some of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. 

What's being done about the drought conditions?

According to Reuters, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority received $3 million from the country's disaster relief fund to bolster water supplies in national parks. Officials are also taking extra precautions against fire risks to reduce the devastating impacts of droughts.

Reducing the pollution heating up our planet is ultimately the best way to address climate extremes. There are several ways we can all help as individuals. One way is to change the way we buy, cook, eat, and reuse food. Keeping food fresh longer, shopping smart at the grocery store, and ditching plastic grocery bags can cut pollution and reduce trash as well.

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