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Natural toxins caused by bacteria could be behind deaths of elephants in Botswana

Over 350 elephants have died since March in the Okavango Panhandle region. Preliminary tests rule out the spread of an infectious disease as the possible cause of deaths. 

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New Delhi: Naturally occurring toxins, possibly produced by bacteria in water bodies, could be behind the deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana since March, say officials, ruling out an infectious disease as the cause of deaths. 

Visuals of dead elephants were captured after conservationists from Elephants Without Borders conducted flights over the Okavango Panhandle region of Botswana. While 356 was the official number of carcasses found, researchers suggested it was possibly higher given that their flights only covered a limited area.

Since the tusks of the elephants — which make them a target of poachers — were intact, authorities ruled out the possibility that these elephants were killed.

However, even after four months of investigations, authorities have not been able to zero in on the exact cause of death of at least 281 elephants. 

Also read: Hundreds of elephants found dead in Botswana, but there is no clear cause of death

Samples sent for tests

Samples have been sent to various laboratories in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the US for tests.

“We have received more test results from other countries, including the United States, and so far the results show that it’s highly unlikely that the cause could be an infectious pathogen,” Cyril Taolo, Acting Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

“It’s a game of elimination where we start testing the most common causes and then move on to the less common ones. We then have to verify and corroborate these results from different laboratory tests,” he added.

The authorities are now investigating broader environmental factors such as naturally produced toxins from bacteria that are found in water bodies.

“Our main attention… is now on investigating broader environmental factors such as naturally produced toxins from bacteria that are found in the environment, such as water bodies,” Taolo added.

Botswana is home to almost a third of Africa’s elephants. While elephant population has declined in the continent in recent decades, Botswana’s population has grown.

Their rising numbers caused conflict with local human communities, an issue that ultimately led President Mokgweetsi Masisi to lift a ban on hunting of elephants in Botswana.

The government’s reasoning was that this would keep the elephant numbers in check and also help support livelihood in the rural communities. This has also led to speculation that locals were behind the elephant deaths.

Also read: Another pregnant elephant among two ‘poisoned’ to death, this time in Chhattisgarh


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  1. In today’s world culling of animals is no solution, other countries may be interested in talking some elephants from Botswana. Elephant population can be controlled by sterilisation/ castration too.

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