Bacterial infection blamed for further deaths in elephants in Zimbabwe

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Twelve more elephants have died in Zimbabwe, bringing the total death toll from a suspected bacterial outbreak to 34, wildlife authorities have said days after researchers accused water toxins of hundreds of elephant deaths in neighboring Botswana.

“A total of 34 carcasses have been found … but some others have not been found,” Fulton Upenyu Mangwanya, director of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management, told parliament on Monday.

The animals died between August 24 and September 23 this year in and around the wildlife forests between the famous northwestern Hwange National Park and the town of Victoria Falls.

“They were found lying on their stomachs,” suggesting they had an “extremely sudden death,” Mangwanya said.

Tests conducted so far in Zimbabwe point to a disease called hemorrhagic septicemia, which is caused by bacterial infection, he said.

Rangers have ruled out cyanide poisoning or poaching because the animals were found with their tusks intact.

Mangwanya said wildlife is more susceptible to disease during the country’s dry and hot season, which is roughly from August to November.

Samples have been sent to a laboratory in the UK and others will be sent to South Africa and the US for further testing and analysis.

Poisonous flowers

In recent years, Zimbabwe has suffered from successive droughts that have been made more severe by global warming, leaving animals with less water and vegetation.

Zimbabwe counts more than 84,000 elephants – almost double the South African country’s ecological carrying capacity of between 45,000 and 50,000.

Neighboring Botswana, home to the world’s largest elephant population of about 130,000, lost about 330 elephants early this year from cyanobacterial poisoning.

Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms that are common in water and are sometimes found in soil. Not everyone produces toxins, but scientists say that toxins occur more often as climate change drives global temperatures.

Southern Africa’s temperatures are doubling the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“It’s like having the right conditions at the right time in the right place, and these species will spread,” Patricia Glibert, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science who has studied cyanobacteria, told Reuters.

“These conditions come together more often in several places, so we see more of these poisonous flowers around the world.”



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