South African national park to kill animals in response to severe drought

There are about 47,000 buffaloes in Kruger national park. Photograph: Dolf van Zuydam/AP

Rangers in South Africa’s biggest wildlife park are to kill about 350 hippos and buffaloes threatened by the impact of a severe drought.

The national parks service says the numbers of hippos and buffaloes in Kruger national park, about 8,000 and 47,000 respectively, are at their highest-ever levels.

Isaac Phaahla, a spokesperson for South African National Parks said the drought had caused a shortage of food for the animals, though there was sufficient water.

The southern Africa drought has been called the worst in 35 years. Water restrictions have been imposed in major cities in South Africa and millions of people are threatened by food shortages in neighbouring countries.

“We do not call it a cull. We call it an offtake. 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,” Phaahla said.

A drought in the early 1990s reduced Kruger’s buffalo population by more than half to about 14,000 but the population rebounded. The hippo population was reduced to around 2,000 but has since quadrupled.

One motive for the killing was to stop the animals suffering, the park said.

“We don’t want the animals dying of hunger and rotting on the ground. We are trying to be humane in the way the animals die,” Phaahla said.

Meat from the killed animals may be distributed to poor communities on the park’s perimeter if veterinary authorities give the go-ahead.

A South African government task team said last week that the historic drought was not expected to ease soon. The long-range forecast showed below normal rainfall expected and “therefore little relief is anticipated in the coming months,” Des van Rooyen, a local government minister and chairman of an inter-ministerial task team on drought, told reporters.

The cost of staple foods such as maize has sky-rocketed and had a knock-on effect on inflation, the central bank has said. Inflation is running at 6%. The drought has also reduced the national cattle herd by 15%.