In 2020, a devastating and mysterious phenomenon unfolded in the heart of Africa as more than 350 elephants in Botswana’s Okavango delta perished during a two-month period. Scientists and researchers were baffled by the enigmatic deaths, as these majestic creatures exhibited a troubling pattern of walking in circles before suddenly collapsing, with no visible signs of injury.
Furthermore, a few months later, an additional 35 elephants in the northwestern region of Zimbabwe suffered a similar fate. Recent findings have now shed light on the perplexing deaths, linking them to a rare bacterium called Pasteurella bisgaard taxon 45, resulting in septicaemia, or blood poisoning.
The Botswana Enigma Unveiled in Africa
The 2020 elephant deaths in Botswana were initially attributed to an unspecified cyanobacterial toxin, as indicated by government officials, but no further details were disclosed at the time. The revelation of this mysterious bacterium as the cause of death in Zimbabwe’s elephants suggests that it may have been responsible for the fatalities in both countries. This discovery has significant implications for the conservation of African savanna elephants, a species that is rapidly declining.
A Hidden Bacterial Culprit
The research, detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, highlights the unprecedented connection between Pasteurella bisgaard taxon 45 and the deaths of these iconic creatures. This bacterium had not previously been linked to elephant deaths, making it an alarming and groundbreaking revelation.
As African savanna elephants face a precipitous annual decline of 8%, primarily due to poaching, this study underscores the need to add infectious diseases to the list of threats that threaten the survival of this endangered species.
The research paper was a collaborative effort involving an international team of researchers from esteemed institutions, including the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, the University of Surrey, and research laboratories in South Africa. Notably, it also featured contributions from experts at the UK government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).