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Botswana: Toxin-Producing Bacteria in Water Cause of Elephant Deaths

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Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria are behind the mysterious elephant deaths in Botswana this year, officials announced on Monday, as per results of an investigation into these occurrences which both puzzled and disconcerted conservationists.

Cyanobacteria — common in water and sometimes found in soil, are microscopic organisms.

Although not all produce toxins, scientists claim those that do are occurring more frequently as climate change sees temperatures rise worldwide — at twice the global average in Southern Africa, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The principal veterinary officer, Doctor Mmadi Reuben, shared that there are still questions as to why only elephants were affected as other animals in the Okavango Panhandle region appeared unharmed — even though some cyanobacterial blooms can harm people.

Dr Mmadi Reuben, shared more insight, "We know the elephant to really be the only animal that for example, that is drinking below the surface of the water. And where the depth is a challenge it clearly shows the possibility of this species being able to suck the silt, which is really where the growth of this cyanobacteria is majority of the time that involved"

As such, scientists are concerned about their potential impact in light of climate change creating a conducive environment to potentially see more of their numbers.

According to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the number of elephant carcasses found since deaths were first reported around early May rose to 330, from 281 in July.

As there have been no more death sightings by officials to suggest a continued threat to Botswana's wildlife, authorities will closely monitor the situation during next year’s rainy season.