Zimbabwe’s wildlife officials said on Wednesday it had discovered more elephant carcasses, bringing the number of dead animals to 22, double the initial figure. They think the animals died from a bacterial infection.
Poaching and poisoning have been ruled out because the elephants were found with their tusks intact. Last week twelve bodies were found. This week ten more death elephants have been discovered in Pandamasuwe Forest, between the largest wildlife sanctuary Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls.
Tinashe Farawo from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said the most of the animals were young, with the oldest being 18 years. The elephants had died in similar circumstances to those discovered last week.
“We suspect it is the same causes as the first group and we are also looking at taking samples to other independent laboratories so that we can broaden our investigations,” said Farawo. He said it would be a while before a final report on the causes of the deaths is ready.
Wildlife officials say the biggest threat to Zimbabwe’s elephants is overpopulation and that lower rainfall this year could again leave the animals facing starvation. Last year, at least 200 died from a lack of water and food.
Zimbabwe is home to some 80,000 elephants, conservationists estimate. Overall numbers have declined sharply in recent years, mostly due to a combination of poaching, illegal hunting and drought.
Earlier this year neighboring Botswana was hit with almost 300 mysterious elephant deaths. A wildlife official in Botswana said in July preliminary tests pointed to a naturally occurring toxin as a probable cause.