Drought is a natural phenomenon that occurs throughout nature and has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Droughts stabilize ecosystems, as it controls population numbers of certain species, some species flourish in dry times and others struggle.
During the 2015/2016 drought it was quite morbid driving through the Kruger and Mjejane as it resembled a desert. Carcasses were scattered all around and weak, thin animals stumbled around looking for the last blade of grass and leaves to eat.
Some animals were more affected than others, such as hippos, buffaloes and, in Mjejane, the rhinos. The issue wasn’t a shortage of water, but rather a shortage of food. Without sufficient rain, the veld condition deteriorated to such an extent that animals were dying of starvation.
Mjejane had lost two white rhinos during this period, as there was not enough grass to sustain them. River and dam levels dropped substantially, that lead to hippos perishing in the sun since they could not submerge themselves in the water anymore.
The Kruger estimated to have lost around 4,000 hippos in the drought period and Mjejane lost around 20 hippos, mainly around Mjejane Big dam.
Even though it was tough to see emaciated hippos, the drop in population numbers was beneficial for the ecosystem. Too many hippos can decimate the veld, as an individual hippo can eat up to 50kg of grass in one night. Less hippos means more food for other grazers such as rhinos and buffalo.
In contrast to the herbivores struggling through the drought, the predators on the other hand had a ball. The abundance in carcasses attracted predators such as hyena, lions and leopards, even the vultures did not have enough time to cover all the carcasses.
It is said that the Lowveld is still facing a few years of dry times, but we have had good rains over the last two years and veld conditions have improved. Below are a few photos illustrating the miracle of rain.
Hopefully, over the course of the next few months we will get our much-needed summer rains and see the new grass shoots spear through the wet soil and the new herbivore offspring enjoying the lush vegetation.
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