Botswana says hundreds of elephants died due to toxins in water
GABORONE (BOTSWANA) – Officials said on Monday that toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria took the lives of more than 300 elephants in Botswana this year. This came as part of the result of an investigation into the deaths which had sent conservationists in shock.
Cyril Taolo, deputy director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, told that the number of dead elephants had increased to 330, from 281 reported in July.
The department’s principal veterinary officer Mmadi Reuben told: “Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are bacteria found in water.”
“However we have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only? We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating.”
However, animals in the Okavango Panhandle region seemed to be unharmed.
Some cyanobacterial blooms can harm people and animals and scientists are concerned about their potential impact as climate change leads to warmer water temperatures, which many cyanobacteria prefer.
Patricia Glibert, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who has studied cyanobacteria, told, “It amounts to having the right conditions, in the right time, in the right place and these species will proliferate,”
“These conditions are coming together more often, in more places, so we are seeing more of these toxic blooms around the world.”
In neighbouring Zimbabwe, about 25 elephant dead bodies were found near the country’s biggest game park. It was suspected they became vulnerable to a bacterial infection.
The animals’ tusks were intact, which rules out the possiblity of poaching and deliberate poisoning. Parks authorities believe the elephants could have taken in the bacteria while searching for food.
Chris Foggin, a veterinarian at the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, which tested samples from dead elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana, said, “We considered the possibility of cyanobacteria but we have no evidence that this is the case here (in Zimbabwe).”
The samples have been sent to Britain by Zimbabwe and are awaiting permits to send samples to two other countries, Foggin said.
Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, however, Botswana has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.