Mystery as 12 elephants suffer ’extremely sudden deaths’ in Zimbabwe taking total to 34

The elephant deaths began on August 24 and come after hundreds of the animals mysteriously died in Botswana. A bacterial disease called haemorrhagic septicaemia is thought to be behind the recent deaths in Zimbabwe but further tests are being carried out.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general Fulton Mangwanya told a parliamentary committee on Monday that 34 dead elephants had been counted in total.

He said: “A total of 34 carcasses have been found…but some others have not been located.”

The animals were found lying on their stomachs suggesting an “extremely sudden death”, Mr Mangwanya added.

He said that post mortems on some of the dead elephants showed inflamed livers and other organs.

Mr Mangwanya said: “It is unlikely that this disease alone will have any serious overall impact on the survival of the elephant population.

“The northwest regions of Zimbabwe have an over-abundance of elephants and this outbreak of disease is probably a manifestation of that… particularly in the hot, dry season elephants are stressed by competition for water and food resources.”

Samples from the dead elephants are being sent to the US for tests.

Mr Mangwanya said: “Permits have been applied for, and we are ready to send samples to the USA for DNA analysis.

“If necessary brain tissues will be sent for analysis of the blue-green algae cyanobacteria toxins.

“All results to date point to the cause of these elephant deaths in Zimbabwe being a disease known as hemorrhagic septicaemia.”

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It comes after hundreds of elephants mysteriously died in Botswana.

The deaths have now been blamed on toxins produced by cyanobacteria.

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 have warned the toxins are occurring more as climate change increases global temperatures.

Zimbabwe and Botswana are estimated to be home to around half of Africa’s 400,000 elephants.

Elephants in the two countries are at historically high levels but numbers are hugely depleted elsewhere on the continent, according to Chris Thouless, head of research at Save the Elephants.

He said: “Higher populations equal greater risk from infectious diseases.”

Mr Thouless added that climate change could affect elephant numbers as water supplies fall and temperatures rise, risking an increase in pathogen outbreaks.

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