ZimParks averts animal crisis as Zambezi River floods

by WildZambezi.com

ZimParks staff chased these buffalo to safety with their patrol boat - just in time!

ZimParks staff chased these buffalo to safety with their patrol boat - just in time!

With Kariba Dam's floodgates opened unusually early this year, the waters of the Zambezi River downstream are flowing even higher than they did in 2010. As the waters rise, people living on the river edges are fore-warned and advised to shore up their property against damage from flooding. However, wild animals like buffalo and waterbuck which graze on mid-stream islands have no such advantage. They are in grave danger of being swept away or starving as their food source is submerged and they cannot swim the fast-flowing water to safety on the mainland.

This was a problem during last year's floods, when conservation organisations on both sides of the Zambezi River appealed for help from the public and boated food and hay to save stranded and weakened animals on the islands.

This year, however, staff from Mana Pools National Park, assisted by The Zambezi Society, moved early to avoid the animal rescue crisis that occurred last year. Before the highest floods occurred, the Society donated emergency fuel supplies with which the Parks staff deployed their patrol boat up and down the river to check for stranded animals, among them this group of buffalo (top right) photographed by Parks Ecologist Philip Madawo. The officers then succeeded in chasing most of the animals off the islands to safety on the mainland before the current became too fast and while they still had the strength to swim.

No sooner had their mission succeeded, than Kariba's fourth floodgate was opened and the Zambezi rose higher than it has for years. The main campground and staff facilities on the banks of the river at Mana Pools are reportedly underwater, with personnel evacuated to higher ground, and visitors forced to change their plans. A recent photograph (middle right) taken by Ken Jenkins shows the normally high banks at the mouth of the Mana River, a well-known fishing and sundowner spot for visitors, completely submerged. For comparison, see the picture of the same spot taken in August last year (bottom right)!

The waters of the Zambezi River are likely to remain at high levels for several months this year, as heavy rains in the upper catchment area have already filled Lake Kariba and necessitated unusually early spillage. However, by May/June, as the inflows subside, the dam floodgates will be closed and tourism facilities downstream should return to normal for the 2011 safari season.

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