Updated: 07:45, Friday November 25, 2011
Approximately 200 elephants have died of thirst in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park due to searing heat and chronic water shortages, a local conservationist says.
Zimbabwe, which, as a southern hemisphere nation, is currently in summer, has been experiencing record-high temperatures since October.
'There have been 200 elephants that have died so far, and they are dying every day,' Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said on Thursday.
He said other game in the park, the largest reserve in the country, were also dying for lack of water. Adding to the troubles caused by the heatwave, pumps used to fill artificial watering holes have also broken down.
To protect the few remaining watering holes, some of the elephants are now aggressively driving away other game, who are stranded with no means to quench their thirst, Rodrigues said in a telephone interview.
The park is located in western Zimbabwe, close to the Kalahari desert, a very dry region with little water or vegetation.
The death toll of 200 elephants marks a rapid increase from the official figure released last week, which said 100 of the giant land mammals had died from the heat.
National Parks Director General Vitalis Chadenga announced that rangers were trying to 'actively manage' the situation by pumping water from underground boreholes into surface-level watering holes.
Chadenga said there were too many elephants in the park, claiming there were an estimated 40,000 animals in a reserve that can only sustain around 25,000.
But Rodrigues insisted the crisis in not being caused by overpopulation. He places the blame instead on a lack of maintenance and mismanagement of the facilities.