Elephants

What’s killing Botswana’s elephants?

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In July 2020, reports began emerging from Botswana of a mass elephant die-off.

MONIRUL BHUIYAN / Contributor

300 elephant deaths had been recorded since May of this year.

MONIRUL BHUIYAN / Contributor

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Botswana is home to around 130,000 elephants — a third of Africa’s elephant population.

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Conservationists speculate poachers may be responsible for the deaths, but Botswana’s Deputy Director of Wildlife and National Parks, Cyril Taolo, said that because the elephants’ tusks were intact, poaching seemed unlikely.

Something else was killing the elephants, he theorized.

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Recently, officials announced that a harmful bloom of cyanobacteria may be the culprit, releasing toxins into the elephants’ water sources.

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Cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) is a single-celled organism that uses photosynthesis to turn the Sun’s light into food.

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Cyanobacteria isn’t always harmful — in fact, it’s the organism that gave Earth its oxygen 2.5 billion years ago — but some species produce a toxic substance.

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When there’s too much cyanobacteria, their toxins can contaminate a water supply.

But some skeptical conservationists don’t rule out deliberate poisoning of water holes by poachers.

For now, Taolo said authorities will monitor water holes for unusual activity.

Read more animal stories here.

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