KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, South Africa (AP) -- Hippos in South Africa's biggest wildlife park are increasingly grazing during the day rather than staying in rivers and pools as usual, a sign of an intensifying drought expected to kill some animals in the weeks ahead.
However, officials in Kruger National Park described the extremely dry period as a natural way of regulating wildlife populations. And while the park's management makes water available to animals in some parts of the park, they don't plan any major intervention to try to save animals from a drought afflicting southern Africa.
Buffalos are also expected to suffer heavily if substantial rains don't arrive soon, according to authorities in Kruger park, which borders Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Rainfall in Kruger is 40 to 50 percent of the average for this time of year.
Park officials told journalists who recently visited Kruger park, a major tourist attraction, that lions and some other predators should benefit from the drought by taking advantage of weakened prey.
"You've got winners and you've got losers. This is nature's regulatory thing," said Izak Smit, an ecologist for the national parks service.
Hippos are in particular trouble because they can't graze as widely as other animals and are very territorial, always returning to the same spot, he said. Hippos, which tend to graze by night and stay in water by day, have been seen grazing during the daytime more often in Kruger as they struggle to find food, according to Smit.
A drought in the early 1990s reduced Kruger's buffalo population by more than half to about 14,000, but the buffalo population has since rebounded to more than 40,000, according to park data.
"You end up with a stronger genetic pool in the end, with the animals surviving these dry periods," Smit said.
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