A bacterium, the cause of the death of hundreds of elephants in Botswana

The cause of death of the pachyderms was determined after months of scientific testing

A cyanobacterium was the cause of the mysterious death of some 300 elephants that set off alarms in Botswana in the middle of this year, according to the government.

The cause of the death of the pachyderms was determined after months of scientific tests commissioned by the Executive of the southern African nation, famous for hosting the largest colony of elephants in the world.

Cyanobacteria are a type of bacteria that have the ability to photosynthesize . They appear in the water and are capable of producing toxins that poison terrestrial and marine fauna, including disorders for humans.

The number of elephants killed by cyanobacteria amounted to about 330 , according to Cyril Taolo , deputy director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Botswana, in a televised press conference.

Despite the clarification of the cause of the massive and sudden deaths, which had alarmed both the Botswana government and the conservationists, there are still many questions about the event .

Why did it affect only the elephants?

“We still have many questions to answer, including why only the elephant species (was affected) , why in the area involved and what could trigger all these changes that we have seen in the area. We have several hypotheses that we are investigating.” said Mmadi Reuben, chief veterinarian of the Department, at the press conference.

This expert also indicated that it has been proven that the deaths ended at the time when the pools of water in the affected region dried up , around the town of Seronga (north).

“From now on we are going to monitor the situation and devise procedures to avoid more deaths in the next season,” Reuben said.

The alarms about the death of the Botswana elephants went off in early May, when the carcasses of several elephants were located in the nearby Okavango Delta area and experts could not conjecture a cause of death with the naked eye.

Subsequent investigations led to the discovery of around 300 dead pachyderms in similar conditions, with signs of sudden neurological damage .

No other species was affected, not even scavengers that could have fed on deceased elephants such as hyenas or vultures.

“It is very, very strange, especially that they are only elephants,” explained then Niall McCann, director of conservation of the British National Park Rescue , one of the organizations that investigated the problem.

Covid complicates investigations

The event also occurred in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, a factor that complicated investigations due to movement restrictions imposed to combat the expansion of the coronavirus .

The pandemic also delayed the completion of scientific tests, as Botswana had to send samples to laboratories in other countries.

Botswana, with a colony of around 125,000 specimens , is the country in the world with the most elephants.

Of these, 10% are in the area affected by this outbreak, the Okavango Delta, well known internationally for its luxury safari tourism.

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