The death of more than 300 elephants near a water hole in the Okavango Delta, Botswana in May and June this year shocked the world. This country in Africa is home to a third of its declining elephant population. Wildlife officials in Botswana have ruled out poaching because the tusks of the dead elephants were intact. Normally poachers kill them for the tusks that have a high market value. Experts blame climate change for the deaths. They have analyzed the case and concluded that the animals died due to ingesting cyanobacteria. This is a toxin made by microscopic algae in the water. The experts explain that cyanobacteria are toxic and occur naturally in standing water and can grow into large blooms.

In the opinion of scientists, incidents of this nature could be offshoots of climate change. Warm water helps the toxic blooms to flourish. Scientists conducted a wide variety of lab tests in different countries to arrive at the conclusion. The countries were South Africa, Canada, Zimbabwe, and the United States. One usually associates climate change with wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, floods etcetera where the topic of Renewable Energy crops up. The death of elephants in Botswana due to climate change would be another aspect.

The BBC reported the majority of the dead animals were close to watering holes. That led to doubts in the minds of the wildlife authorities about the role of the bacteria.

This is because the blooms usually appear on the edges of water bodies while the elephants go deep into the water and tend to drink from the middle. Incidentally, the deaths stopped towards the end of June 2020 when the source of water dried up.

Dead elephants of Botswana

The incident of dead elephants in Botswana was revealed in early May.

Local conservationists noticed the lifeless pachyderms when they flew over the delta region. There were hundreds of them. That is what Dr. Niall McCann, of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, indicated to a section of the media. In his words - "They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight. To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was extraordinary." An official of the wildlife department ruled out anthrax poisoning.

However, the mystery remains because only the elephants died and no other animals. The official version is - "Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are bacteria found in water." A senior official made these remarks at a press conference. Incidentally, in Zimbabwe, twenty-five elephants recently died. Test samples will go to the UK for analysis.

Botswana wants to establish the cause of death of the elephants

According to CNN, a section of conservationists is unable to accept the explanation of government wildlife officials. The official version is that the elephants are victims of cyanobacteria in waterholes. Botswana got laboratory tests conducted on the carcass, soil, and water samples but there is a mystery.

Cyanobacteria is common in water, but not all of them produce toxins. Scientists have added another dimension. They have brought in the angle of climate change. They feel the bacteria will produce more toxins as the temperature of the water rises. In other words, global warming produces conditions that are more favorable for the growth of the bacteria.

Officials in Botswana insist poachers not involved

Botswana has the unique distinction of being the country on the continent with the maximum number of African elephants. Last year, Botswana scrapped an elephant-hunting ban that was in place since 2014. It sparked an international outcry. CNN says some conservationists suspect involvement of poachers in the mass scale death of the elephants.

However, the country's Deputy Director of Wildlife and National Parks, Cyril Taolo said at a press conference - "I don't think anybody can ever say never, but in this instance, the available evidence is showing that this was a natural occurrence." He added that it was not a case of poaching.

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