The continuing drought is hitting South Africa hard. Now into its second year with little rain, the north east of the country is parched and barren, with millions of people threatened by food shortages as crops are failing and cattle dying. But it is not only the people who are in the grip of the drought, as the abundant wildlife is also suffering.
So much so, that the national parks service has started killing the abundant hippos and buffalo as there is simply not enough vegetation to support their numbers. “We do not call it a cull. We call it an offtake,” the spokesperson for South African National Parks, Isaac Phaahla told The Guardian. “It’s a management tool and we want to understand what impact it will have. Our aim is to have sustainable usage [of resources] and populations.” While there is current still just about enough water for the animals, there is a chronic shortage of food.
It is thought that there are currently around 8,000 hippopotamuses and 47,000 buffalo in Kruger National Park, the largest game park in South Africa, and one of the most well-known on the entire continent. This is thought to be the highest their numbers have ever been, and coupled with healthy number of other large herbivores, such as elephants, the vegetation in the park has been put under considerable stress during the drought. While there was a little bit of rain in March this year, it was not nearly enough to break the drought, and now the animals are suffering.
The national parks authority want to kill the animals in order to prevent them from dying of starvation and then rotting in the parks vast landscape. They have also suggested that providing a vet says everything is OK, the meat could be passed on to local communities bordering the park who are also suffering due to the drought. Earlier in the year the authorities killed 59 hippos, according to reports, while it is thought they are now planning on targeting another 100, as well as turning their sights on 200 buffalo.
Forecasts are showing that it is unlikely to rain anytime soon, and government ministers have said that there is seemingly no end in sight. The worry now is that with the harvest in South Africa already down by a quarter, and over 15 percent of the country's cattle herds already lost, that millions of people across the region will be at a major risk of food shortages.