HARARE -The number of elephants in Zimbabwe’s flagship Hwange National park has increased and could be as high as 50 000 figures showed on Tuesday.
“The latest aerial count just conducted suggests a population of about 58000 elephants in Matabeleland North [province], of which the bulk would be in Hwange,” a newsletter from the privately-run Bhejane Trust said.
The trust said a “waterhole count”, carried out last year by volunteers for Wildlife Environment Zimbabwe, gives the much lower figure of 22 343 elephants.
The difference between the two counts is due to the fact that elephants do not need to drink every day and have “high mobility,” the group said, putting the final tally of elephants in Hwange National Park at between 30 000 and 50 000.
Previous counts of elephants in Hwange have put the top limit at around 40 000.
Elephant populations in other areas of Zimbabwe have declined massively, mainly due to poaching.
Hwange’s elephants have been in the news recently after Â state park rangers said there had captured at least 27 baby elephants, Â for export to China.
They argue that Â the exports are being done under strict monitoring Â by the Convention on International Trade Â in Endangered Species Â as the pachyderms have exceeded their capacity and are destroying vegetation
Conservationists and the Zimbabwe government have argued for years over whether Hwange has exceeded its carrying capacity for elephants with authorities Â putting the Â figure Â at around 15 000.
Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said in an interview Tuesday that elephants continuously wander back and forth into Zimbabwe from Zambia and Botswana so any game count confined to Zimbabwe could not be entirely accurate.
Rodrigues told Sapa: “There’s no fence. When you get to Hwange you hardly see these elephants. Where are these elephants hiding, that’s what I’d like to know?”
“And if there are so many animals in Hwange, why don’t you relocate them to Chizarira (National Park) and other areas (in northern Zimbabwe) where there is a shortage?”
The Bhejane Trust said that Zimbabwe had likely seen more than 20,000 elephants poached over the last few years. Numbers are down 75 percent in the Sebungwe area, in north-western Zimbabwe while the northern Zambezi Valley — popular with tourists and bush-lovers — “has lost over 8,000 elephants”, the newsletter said, citing the results of a recent aerial survey. -Sapa