Photographer: Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images

Zimbabwe to Move 500 Elephants From Its Largest National Park

Zimbabwe said it began moving 500 elephants, a species gravely threatened by poachers, from its largest national park because the animals’ population has grown too large in an area that’s already stricken by drought.

The elephants will leave Hwange National Park and move to the more remote Chizarira sanctuary, the country’s third-largest park, according to Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kachingwe.

“We want to save our animals,” Muchinguri-Kachingwe said in an interview Wednesday in the capital, Harare. “We’re saying: as opposed to selling, let translocation take place.”

Zimbabwe has drawn criticism from conservationists for selling elephants to China and announcing plans to lobby for the lifting of the ban on ivory trade at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, which will begin Sept. 24 in neighboring South Africa. The government says a controlled ivory-marketing system would allow it to raise money to fight poaching.

Hwange National Park can hold about 18,000 elephants but has a population of 45,000, and providing water to the animals is expensive, Muchinguri-Kachingwe said. It costs $2,000 to move an elephant, she said.

Map of Zimbabwe

The nation is grappling with an economic crisis and says its elephant population, estimated at 84,000, is twice what can be supported by available food and land. Southern Africa “carries three-quarters of the world elephant population,” Muchinguri-Kachingwe said. “As a region we will we have to take our own position in order to protect ourselves.”