Elephants at waterhole 2000x BINNS D64A3322 copy


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Sep 22, 2020 | by Adrian Binns

Elephants, intelligent and powerful giants of Africa, have been much in the news this year. Sadly, most of it has not been good. In May, we learned of the mysterious death of 169 elephants at numerous pans (watering holes) in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. By August, the death toll had reached 330, and conservationists were baffled. Poaching and illegal poisoning – both ongoing threats to African wildlife – was ruled-out since tusks were intact on the elephant carcasses.

Scientists now believe the animals succumbed to cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), a microscopic organism commonly found in water. Some types of cyanobacteria are toxic, and it appears the elephants drank water that was contaminated with high levels of this toxic bloom. Rising water temperatures, which cause cyanobacteria to flourish, are a possible factor.

While there have been no new reports of mysteriously-dead elephants in Botswana, reports recently surfaced of two dozen that have died in neighbouring Zimbabwe. Scientists and conservationists have many unanswered questions about these incidents, including why did the toxic bacteria kill only elephants, and not other animals? Why did this occur within the delta, compared to other locations?

Botswana is home to the largest concentration of African elephants, about 130,000, a third of the world’s population. The demise of any number is still a shock. Eco-tourism plays a huge role, directly and indirectly, in the fate of African wildlife. While the covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted tourism economy, we look forward to returning to Africa when it’s appropriate, to see, enjoy, and support these amazing animals.

Elephants at water hole, Hwange NP, Zimbabwe

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