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November 27, 2011

Unusual heat kills livestock in Zimbabwe

by Emilia Zindi

High temperatures during the past three months have resulted in the death of several hundreds of livestock in Zimabwe's Matabeleland region owing to a lack of drinking water and grazing pasture.

Binga and Victoria Falls in Matabeleland North at one time recorded 43 and 44 degrees Celsius respectively while Kezi and West Nicholson in Matabeleland South each saw temperatures soar to 40 degrees Celsius.

A recent visit to the provinces revealed a sad scenario where domestic animals could be seen grazing along highways which were the only areas with some grass left. Most grass has also been burnt in veld fires.

Some villagers shed tears as they narrated how they were losing their livestock, which were their only form of wealth, to the heat.

“I lost 10 cattle last month. The animals just collapsed while grazing in the dry pastures. This happened on three consecutive days,’’ said Mr Khulekai Khumalo of Chisuma Village in Hwange. “This is the first time I have lost such a big number of my cattle in many years. The heat that swept across the province left us wondering whether we would survive because even the rivers dried up, forcing us to seek alternative sources of water from the main water pipeline that draws water from Zambezi River to Hwange.’’

He said villagers were now tracking the main pipeline seeking leakages where they would drive their animals to drink from.

“We are digging small ponds where there are leaks along the pipeline. This is where we are driving our animals to drink from while villagers fetch drinking water direct from the leak,’’ said Mr Khumalo.

The old man is now left with eight cattle.

Another villager, Christopher Siyamapeni of Kasase in Ward 10, Hwange, said he lost eight cattle in October due to the heat.

He only discovered the dead animals after a couple of days since he could not locate them.

“It took me five days to locate the carcasses as the animals collapsed more than five kilometres from my homestead. The animals were in a bushy area in the nearby mountain where they usually graze,’’ said Mr Siyamapeni

“I had to sell three of my remaining 20 cattle to buy feeds so that the animals do not go far away in search of pastures. The situation is bad in this area. As you can see we do not even have any pastures in sight,’’ he said.

Some of his cattle could be seen struggling to stand on all four legs as they had become so thin and were being fed whilst lying down.

“I now have 17 cattle left and I intend to sell some more so that I buy more feeds for the remaining ones,’’ added Mr Siyamapeni.

A veterinary officer in the area, Mr Edison Ncube, confirmed the death of domestic animals in the province.

“I received more than 20 reports at the end of October only, where I recorded more than 60 animals which died. There are of course many more villagers who are not reporting perhaps because they are in faraway areas or because they do not just bother to let the veterinary officers know for fear of being ordered to burn the carcasses since we do not allow people to eat the meat,’’ he said.

Mr Ncube said the livestock in the area showed signs of weakness due to a lack of pastures and drinking water.

“We have treated some animals, but the major issue is of feeds and water and as a result we have advised villagers to resort to supplementary feeding,’’ he said.

Another villager from Jambezi Ward 2 under headman Makupiwa Ncube in Victoria Falls, Mr Limukile Ndhlovu, said he had since lost 20 cattle between August and October.

He said he could not report his cases to the veterinary officers since he knew it was because of the heat.

Mr Ndhlovu confessed that his family ate some of the meat whilst the remainder was sold to other villagers because he could not afford throwing the meat away.

“I knew the animals died because of the heat and not any other disease so I had no option but to sell the meat while I ate some of it with my family. It is not easy to just throw away a big animal like that. No one got sick after eating the meat because the animals were disease-free,’’ he said.

He said he was now left with six cattle whose welfare was now his pre-occupation.

Another villager who was faced with the same predicament, Mr Elliot Mahlangu, said he could not wait for his animals to die. Instead he would slaughter any of his animals he suspected would die.

Some of the villagers could be seen tracking the Hwange water pipeline in search of water for themselves as well as their domestic animals.

In Matabeleland South’s Zezani area, the situation was the same with villagers saying they were selling some of their cattle to reduce the loss.

A white farmer was said to be moving around the area buying cattle from villagers for as little as US$200 per beast.

Matabeleland North and South are known for their high volumes of livestock with statistics released late year showing the provinces had a total of more than one million animals.

Matabeleland North had 552 000 with Matabeleland South having 530 000. This saw President Mugabe during the launch of the Presidential Well Wishers’ Special Agricultural Inputs Scheme for the 2011/12 season two weeks ago giving US$500 000 worth of dipping chemicals to the provinces as well as small grains varieties for the farmers in the area.

The Sunday Mail

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