By Mpho Tebele, The Southern Times
GABORONE: As Botswana authorities this week announced that cyanobacteria was the cause of mysterious death of 330 elephants, their counterparts in Zimbabwe say preliminary investigations show that there is no link between the deaths of elephants in the two neighbouring countries.
Between April and June this year, Botswana and conservationists across the world had been struggling to come to terms with the unexplained elephant deaths in the Okavango panhandle in the northern part of the country. But this week Botswana said it had solved the mystery of elephants die-off as it believes that the elephants died after ingesting toxins from cyanobacteria.
Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms that are found in water sources and while some do not produce deadly toxins others do.
“Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are bacteria found in water,” said Principal Veterinary Officer at the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Mmadi Reuben during a press conference.
Reuben said they intend to test more waterholes for the same bacteria to reduce the risk of another die-off.
“We have more questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only. We have a number of hypothesis we are investigating,” he said. He said what was shocking was that the bacteria only affected elephants and vultures and other scavengers that consumed carcasses or animals that drank water from the same waterholes.
He explained that one of the reasons why only elephants were affected was because of their behavior; they use their trunks to access water below the surface.
Deputy director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Cyril Taolo said the mysterious deaths of elephants were established though investigation of water sources blood, soil and elephant carcass samples which had been sent to laboratories in Canada, South Africa, United States and Zimbabwe.
It has since emerged that preliminary investigations by Zimbabwe authorities have shown that there is no correlation between the deaths of elephants in that country and Botswana.
In an interview, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson said “There is no evidence to link what happened in Botswana and what happened in Zimbabwe but we are still investigating,” he said. According to Farawo, they do work not only with Botswana but with other countries within SADC under the armpit of Technical Advisor for Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs).
Farawo said at least 22 elephants were found dead in Pandamasue Forests, Woodlands Forests and Zambezi National Park. He revealed that most of the dead elephants were sub adults and juveniles (between 2-6 years) adding that the oldest was 30 year adding that they were found near water holes.
Samples of the affected elephants have been taken to the laboratory and authorities are still waiting for the results, but Farawo added that “there are indications that they might have died due to a bacterial infection.”