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Zimbabwe's Wildlife Dying of Thirst

In Zimbabwe's largest and most popular wildlife area - Hwange National Park - many of the animals are dying. Experts say half the wildlife will be dead soon if the government is not able to get a steady supply of water to the animals soon. The experts say that government mismangement is putting one of Zimbabwe's most precious natural resources at risk.

Johnny Rodrigues is a man with a mission: To save Zimbabwe's dwindling wildlife resources. He is chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce, a small non-governmental organization, which helps wild animals in distress in many parts of the country.

Located in northwest Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park takes up 14,000 square kilometers and attracts many foreign tourists even during these difficult days in the country.

Mr. Rodrigues is back in Harare after a recent visit to the park. He went there in response to reports that animals are dying throughout the park.

Mr. Rodrigues confirmed the reports and said government mismanagement is to blame for many of the deaths. He says the government's wildlife department, instead of using what money it had to maintain the pumping system that sends water to drinking pans throughout the park, spent the money on luxury vehicles for senior staff. With no water, he says, even more animals are going to die.

"In national parks if nothing is done soon we are going to lose over half the population up there because of lack of water due to ... mismanagement," he said.

What makes the calamity so aggravating, Mr. Rodrigues says, is that water is available, but most of the machinery that pumps it to drinking pans is not working.

"There is plenty of water in the water beds but no engines to suck the water out the ground to put in the pans," he said. "They should have been pumping from when the rains stopped in April/May and we wouldn't have this major disaster. In the afternoons you will see newly fresh carcases due to lack of water. The very few [places] where there are pumps pumping water are under pressure becuase all the animals go to where there is water."

Mr. Rodrigues says that last weekend his scouts saw between 1,000 and 1,500 buffalo at a water pan where the pump was working.

Zimbabwe's wildlife is under threat in other places besides Hwange National Park. At least part of the reason for this, wildlife experts says, is that over the last five years, many privately owned conservancies and safari camps have been taken over by President Robert Mugabe's associates.

Frances Nhema, Zimbabwe's environment minister, as well as member of his senior staff, did not respond to questions submitted Wednesday.