HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe plans to send brain tissue samples from dead elephants to the United States to test for toxic micro-organisms blamed for hundreds of elephant deaths in neighbouring Botswana, the parks authority said.
Thirty-four elephants have died in western Zimbabwe since Aug. 24, Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director general Fulton Mangwanya told a parliamentary committee in a statement on Monday.
Botswana blamed toxins produced by cyanobacteria for the deaths of 330 elephants this year.
Sometimes called blue-green algae, cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms that are common in water and can produce toxins that damage the liver or nervous system of animals and humans.
Scientists say the toxins are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.
“Permits have been applied for, and we are ready to send samples to the U.S.A. for DNA analysis… If necessary brain tissues will be sent for analysis of the blue-green algae cyanobacteria toxins,” Mangwanya said.
“All results to date point to the cause of these elephant deaths in Zimbabwe being a disease known as hemorrhagic septicaemia.”
Zimbabwe is home to some 80,000 elephants, around a fifth of Africa’s total, conservationists estimate. Overall numbers have declined sharply in recent years, mostly due to a combination of poaching, illegal hunting and drought.
Post mortems on some of the Zimbabwean elephants showed that they had inflamed livers and lungs. The elephants were found lying on their stomachs, suggesting an extremely sudden death, Mangwanya said.
Park officials have said that the biggest threat to Zimbabwe’s elephant herd is overpopulation and that lower rainfall this year could again leave the animals facing starvation, after at least 200 died in 2019 from a lack of water and food.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Nick Macfie)