330 elephants died from toxins in water in Botswana

Dead elephants are seen in Okavango Delta. photo: Reuters
Dead elephants are seen in Okavango Delta, 2020, photo: Reuters

The deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana earlier this year were caused by toxins produced by cyanobacteria in water, officials said on Monday.

Cyril Taolo, deputy director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, told a news conference that the number of dead elephants had risen to 330, from 281 last reported in July.

“Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are bacteria found in water,” the department’s principal veterinary officer Mmadi Reuben said.

Reuben added that there were still many unanswered questions: “However we have many questions still to be answered, such as why the elephants only (died) and why that area only. We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating.”

Walking in circles before dying
The dead elephants were first spotted earlier this year in the Okavango Panhandle region. “It seems they were dying very suddenly in some cases,” conservation biologist Keith Lindsay said. “The carcasses were animals that had fallen down while walking…very unusual.”

In a report prepared for the government, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), a conservation organization, said that its aerial surveys showed that elephants of all ages and sex appeared to be dying. 

“One elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although being encouraged by other herd members,” the EWB report said. “Several live elephants appeared to have been weak, lethargic and emaciated, with some showing signs of disorientation, difficulty in walking or limping.”

In neighboring Zimbabwe, more than 20 elephant carcasses were discovered near the country’s biggest game park. Authorities suspect they died from a bacterial infection.

Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching.

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