Persistent drought in Savé Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe, leads to mass relocation of animals

It looks like climate change is bearing down on the survivability of wildlife on the African continent to the point where it has become extremely serious. The Savé Valley Conservancy covers 1,330 mi². It was established in 1991 because drought in that area made farming unviable.

Conservationists allowed wildlife into this area, but now, 30 years later, a more persistent and damaging drought has made it impossible for the land to sustain the animals living in that area and accordingly thousands of animals are threatened. They face a slow death from thirst or starvation unless a perilous operation to relocate 3,000 animals across nearly 600 miles of bush takes place.

Relocation of animals from draught hit Savé Valley Conservancy to new homes on Zambezi River in Zimbabwe's far north the Sapi Reserve
Relocation of animals from draught hit Savé Valley Conservancy to new homes on Zambezi River in Zimbabwe’s far north the Sapi Reserve. Image: Great Plains Foundation (believed).

They decided that they need to move 3,000 animals including 400 elephants, 2,000 Impala, 70 giraffes and two prides of lions from the Savé Valley Conservancy to an area on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe’s far north called the Sapi Reserve.

The person organising this enormous undertaking is Derek Joubert who is the co-founder of the Great Plains Foundation. The project is going to cost $5.5 million. The foundation is going to use $2.75 millions of their own money and hope the remainder can be raised through crowdfunding campaigns. They say that if they miss the target animals will die.

Zimbabwe’s blistering summer is approaching and therefore they have had to move fast. The relocation plan was drawn up in three months. And it is mightily complicated.

Sven Bourquin, a conservation ecologist said: “We had to cut paths and hire earthmoving equipment to reinforce and grade the entire 560-route between Savé and the Great Plains Sapi Reserve to make sure the highways could support 32-ton trucks. He also said: “Working with animals like elephants is an incredibly costly and dangerous process. We need to pay for helicopters, marksmen, veterinary care and supervision on the road. The money has drained away like water from a leaky bucket”.

They have managed to relocate 101 elephants and 184 impalas so far without loss of life. It is difficult work rounding up the animals and they are using helicopters to scour the bush for family groups before the summer shutdown when it becomes too hot to transport wildlife.

The lead veterinarian, Rob Reese said: “A boma [stockade] is set up in advance, comprising a funnel of screens through which animals can be herded directly into the transport vehicle. It seems straightforward, but all species have their own unique problems, be it size, family make-up, ability to transport in a single compartment or interaction between members of a group. All can affect the ease or difficulty of a capture operation.”

“Impalas can be difficult to herd with a helicopter.”

Apparently, impala can be very difficult to herd with a helicopter because they become jumpy and spooked which puts pilots in danger. Sables are easier but they can injure themselves when leaving the truck.

Elephants require a lot of equipment, and the process is fraught with challenges. Buffaloes are very dangerous and destructive and giraffes when they get up, they do so suddenly, and they can injure people.

Moving on elephant costs around $10,000 per individual and they are nervous when transported. They tranquilize the matriarchs for the 20-hour journey while the other family members are fully conscious.

The drivers have to take extreme care and not stop at public places. They can’t use their horns and they must be gentle on the brakes and avoid potholes according to Josh Mostert of African Wildlife Management & Conservation.

This is a Google map of the journey. The timings are for normal circumstances.

Climate change appears to be having a dramatically negative impact on Africa with seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change being in Africa. Drought and soil erosion have degraded 65% of the continent’s grassland. This threatens the livelihoods of 100 million herders and farmers.

Once they have relocated the animals to the Sapi Reserve they will stay in the stockade to get you to their surroundings.

My sincere thanks to The Times (journalist Chris Haslam). I strongly recommend this UK newspaper. It is the best for animal studies and conservation issues.

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Post Category: Conservation