Activists have begun hauling bales of hay into Zimbabwe's struggling national parks in response to a drought that has already seen dozens of elephants starve to death.
Vets for Animal Welfare Zimbabwe, an NGO, had trucked 9,000 bales of hay to Mana Pools, a national park in the north of the country, Radio France International reported.
"Because of the drought, the pools are drying up and elephants get stuck in the deep mud. We try everything we can to get them out of it, but even after digging and pulling them out, they are often too weak to stand up," said Carole Deschuymere, a wildlife photographer working closely with VAWZ.
"A lot of baby elephants are being born prematurely, and the mothers don’t have enough milk to feed them. The zebra foals also are being born now. Without the hay they would all just die," she said.
Up to 20 elephants in the national park are believed to have starved to death in Mana Pools in the past month. Earlier the Zimbabwe National Parks Authority said at least 55 elephants had died in the Hwange National Park, 300 miles to the southwest.
Southern Africa is experiencing its worst drought for 20 years. But in Zimbabwe it has been exacerbated by a spiraling economic crisis that has left both the government and public bereft of foreign currency to pay for imported food, fuel, and electricity.
The worst of the drought has hit a belt of land across the northern part of the country that is home to most of Zimbabwe's national parks.
"The situation is dire. Animals are dying, people are dying,” said Tinshe Farawo, a spokesman for Zim Parks, Zimbabwe’s national wildlife authority.
“It is not just the elephants. I just read a report about buffalo succumbing and getting stuck in the mud.”
The drought has also exacerbated competition between humans and animals for water as animals including elephants raid boreholes dug by subsistence farmers for crops and livestock.
At least 22 people have been killed by elephants since the beginning of this year. The most recent confirmed casualty, a farmer near Hwange who tried to scare an elephant away from his land, was killed last week, Mr Farawo said.
There are about 85,000 elephants in Zimbabwe, which is more than double the country's estimated ecological carrying capacity of 3,000 to 40,000, Mr Farawo said.