According to the Botswana government, the animals could have ingested a bacteria found in water wells.

Dead elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

A cyanobacteria was the cause of the mysterious death of some 300 elephants that set off alarms in Botswana in the middle of this year, according to the Government reported on Monday. The event was widely followed by the press in Spain this spring.

The cause of the death of the pachyderms was determined after months of scientific tests commissioned by the Executive of the southern African nation, famous for hosting the largest elephant colony in the world.

A dead elephant in this undated image in the Okavango Delta,

A dead elephant in this undated image in the Okavango Delta,
Reuters

Cyanobacteria are a type of bacteria that have the ability to photosynthesize. They appear in the water and are capable of producing toxins that poison terrestrial and marine fauna, including human disorders.

The number of elephants killed by cyanobacteria amounted to about 330, as detailed Cyril Taolo, deputy director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Botswana, in a televised press conference.

Despite the clarification of the cause of the massive and sudden deaths, which had alarmed both the Botswana government and conservationists, there are still many questions about the event.

“We still have many questions to answer, including why only the elephant species (was affected), why in the area involved and what could trigger all these changes that we have seen in the area. We have several hypotheses that we are investigating, ”said Mmadi Reuben, chief veterinarian of the Department, at the press conference.

This expert also indicated that it has been proven that the deaths ended in the time when pools of water dried of the affected region, around the town of Seronga (north). “From now on we are going to monitor the situation and devise procedures to avoid more deaths in the next season,” said Reuben.

Alarms about the death of Botswana elephants sounded at the beginning of May, when the carcasses of several elephants were located in the nearby Okavango Delta area and experts could not conjecture a cause of death with the naked eye.

Later explorations led to the discovery of around 300 dead pachyderms in similar conditions, with signs of sudden neurological damage.

Questions to be resolved

No other species was affected, not even scavengers that could have fed on deceased elephants such as hyenas or vultures. “It’s very, very strange, especially that they are just elephants.”Niall McCann, conservation director of the British National Park Rescue, one of the organizations investigating the problem, explained then to the Efe agency.

The event also occurred amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a factor that complicated the investigations due to the movement restrictions imposed to combat the expansion of the coronavirus. The pandemic also delayed the completion of scientific tests, as Botswana had to send samples to laboratories in other countries.

Botswana, with a colony of about 125,000 copies, is the country in the world with the most elephants. Of these, 10% are in the area affected by this outbreak, the Okavango Delta, well known internationally for its luxury safari tourism.