By Nkosilathi Sibanda, The Zimbabwe Daily
The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks) has said it has burnt all the 22 elephant carcasses that were discovered at Hwange National Park to avoid disease transfer to humans and livestock.
The cause of death is unknown, although it is suspected to be a bacterial infection. Dozens of jumbo carcasses were last week found at Hwange National Park’s Pandamasue Forest, prompting ZimParks to intensify its education and awareness programme among neighbouring communities to avoid contact with the wild. Pandamasue Forest lies between Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls.
Villagers settled on the outskirts of Hwange National Park were warned to be wary of eating meat from wild animals and desist from driving their livestock into wildlife infested grazing lands to avoid contamination following the mysterious death. The world over, the subject of diseases being transferred from animals to humans has been a thorny issue.
Known as zoonosis, the study of such kind of animal-human transmittable diseases has come to the fore, in particular with the advent of the coronavirus and related infections. The mystery disease at Hwange first claimed 11 elephants but by Wednesday last week, authorities had discovered more than double the carcasses in the veld. Neighbouring Botswana has reportedly recorded more than 300 deaths, linked to those at Hwange.
Elephant meat is edible to many in the area. The demand for wild meat has always been high as it is considered as natural healthy food. But, health risks of eating meat from a contaminated animal are huge, of which ZimParks has strongly warned people to avoid elephant meat or any wild at all times.
Diseases that emanate from such contact are related to zoonosis, meaning they are transferable to humans. In an interview with Sunday News, ZimParks spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said they have burnt all the elephant carcasses that died of the mystery disease.
“We have burnt all the carcasses that were found. The death of the elephants occurred at an area that is way off from communities but we as ZimParks have always educated communities to avoid contact with wildlife. We discourage them from driving cattle and other livestock into the National Park as this is bound to cause diseases and also escalate the human-wildlife conflict,” said Mr Farawo.
He said said the cause of death was yet to be established.
“It is not yet conclusive. We are suspecting a bacterial infection and we are awaiting results to confirm that indeed it was a bacterial infection,” he said.
With suspicions hovering, wildlife experts stationed at Hwange said they cannot rule out that the elephants died of moisture stress. The conservationists link this with the fact that this season elephants and other wild stock travel far and wide in search of water.
“Remember that Botswana, which has the highest elephant population, has fewer water bodies. So, elephants always make their annual migration in search of water bodies and pasture, possibly the mystery disease has something to do with that,” said Mr Cain Ncube, a wildlife expert with a private organisation in Hwange.
“We have to find a conclusive result to this. Knowing will guide us as to how we can prevent further infection and block any human contamination,” he said.