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The death of hundreds of elephants earlier this year left conservationists baffled as to what caused it. Now, however, the mysterious incident is thought to have been solved.
More than 300 elephant carcasses were discovered in Botswana between May and June, many of which were located near watering holes.
The animals’ deaths were dubbed a ‘conservation disaster’, despite the cause being unknown. Months on from the first elephants being discovered, an explanation has finally surfaced.
In July, Dr Niall McCann, director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue, told The Guardian:
This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant.
Following the elephants being found near water, officials tested the water the animals were drinking to discover it contained toxins produced by Cyanobacteria, BBC News reports.
Cyanobacteria is a toxic bacteria that can occur naturally in standing water and sometimes grow into large blooms known as blue-green algae.
Scientists are now warning that climate change could have caused the algae to thrive in these Botswanan waters. Known as ‘toxic blooms’, the bacteria reportedly likes warmer climates.
Mmadi Reuben, principal veterinary officer at the Botswana department of wildlife and national parks said at a news conference: ‘Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are bacteria found in water.’
Officials initially ruled out toxins being the cause of the deaths, as elephants were the only species to have been affected, and other animals would have presumably suffered the same consequences. However it’s now thought the large animals may have been particularly susceptible to the toxic blooms due to elephants bathing in the waters and ingesting a lot more of it than other animals will have.
Another reason why the water was linked to the elephant deaths was because they appeared to stop by the end of June. This is said to be because a lot of the watering holes dried up at this time, meaning the elephants were no longer drinking the algae-filled water.
Reuben added: ‘We have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only. We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating.’
With authorities now knowing the cause of the deaths, hopefully they will be able to monitor the country’s waters to prevent it happening again.
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