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Drought threatens desert elephants

Science | Animals

Pete Wilton | 18 May 09

A rare herd of desert elephants is under threat from the worst drought in 26 years.

Researchers from charity Save the Elephants report that the 350-450 elephants of the Gourma region in Mali are being forced to trek ever-longer distances in search of water.

Many elephants have already died and juveniles are thought to be most at risk as their trunks cannot reach down to the remaining water in the deepest wells, according to STE scientist Jake Wall.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a Research Associate at Oxford's Department of Zoology and founder of the charity Save the Elephants, has been monitoring these herds for the last three decades.

Iain said: 'In the Gourma region of Mali are the last elephants living in the Sahel and they are northernmost in Africa. Their range has shrunk drastically since the 1970s due to climate change and overstocking of livestock which has degraded the habitat.'

'These elephants have the longest migration route of any in Africa and move in a counterclockwise circle of about 700km. At the height of the dry season there are only a handful of shallow lakes left to them until recharged by rains in July and August.'

This year the water levels are extremely low in the Gourma region due to uneven rainfall in 2008. The most important of these lakes, Banzena, is the lowest it has been since 1983 when it dried up completely.

STE is appealing for funds to help them get water to the elephants to help them survive until the first predicted rains arrive in early June. 

More detail in Ele News

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