Hundreds of elephants mysteriously found dead in Botswana, in the northern Okavango Delta region, have succumbed to bacteria, the government revealed on Monday.
“The deaths were caused by poisoning due to a cyanobacterium which was growing in water points,” Mmadi Reuben, veterinarian at the Ministry of Wildlife and National Parks, told reporters.
Landlocked between Zambia, Namibia and South Africa, Botswana is home to around 130,000 free-roaming elephants, or one-third of their known African population.
More than 300 pachyderms have been found dead since March. The poaching trail had been ruled out because the animals were found with their tusks intact. Anthrax (or anthrax disease) was also excluded.
Elephant deaths ceased at the end of June, a period that coincides with the drying up of these water points, Reuben said.
Blood tests confirmed that a neurotoxin-producing cyanobacterium was responsible for the death of the elephants.
These tests were carried out in specialized laboratories in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Canada. Research on the bacteria is continuing, the government of Botswana said.