Twelve elephants in Zimbabwe died from a bacterial infection, wildlife authorities said Tuesday. The animals were found dead late last week in the northern Pandamasuwe forest, between Hwange National Park and the town of Victoria Falls.
Rangers had ruled out poaching or cyanide poisoning because the animals were found with their tusks intact. “I have a report which said there was a bacterial infection,” parks and wildlife authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo told AFP.
The dead animals were young elephants between 1,5 and six years old. Farawo said the elephants were too short to reach treetop leaves and may have ingested the bacteria by grazing on infected plants.
Neighboring Botswana lost around 300 elephants earlier this year. They are thought to have died from natural toxins.
Chris Foggin from Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust said so far there were no similarities between the elephant deaths in the two countries. His organization helped with testing in Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Since a devastating drought in 2019, at least 200 elephants died in Zimbabwe’s wildlife parks due to lack of food and water. Buffaloa and antelopes also died.
Zimparks officials say the biggest threat to Zimbabwe’s elephants is overpopulation and that lower rainfall this year could again leave the animals facing starvation.
Zimbabwe is home to around 80,000 elephants, conservationists estimate. Overall numbers have declined sharply in recent years, mostly due to poaching, illegal hunting and drought.