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Scientists Discover the Bacteria Behind Elephant Fatalities

African Elephants
© Ikiwaner Wikimedia

The mysterious fatalities of African elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana have raised alarms among conservationists and researchers. Now, after extensive research, scientists believe they have uncovered a significant clue to the puzzle. The Bacterium that is closely associated with the deadly septicemia is thought to be the cause.

African Elephants
© Ikiwaner Wikimedia

The Deaths of the Elephants in Botswana

The discovery in Zimbabwe might also shed light on a larger mystery in neighboring Botswana. In 2020, conservationists were shocked to find 356 dead elephants in Botswana’s Okavango Panhandle. Many of these elephants seemed to have died suddenly. The similarity between the deaths in both countries has led researchers to believe that the same bacterium could be responsible.

YouTube video
© Nature Connection YouTube

Stress and Environmental Factors Affecting Elephants

Environmental stressors, such as severe drought and food shortages, might have weakened the elephants’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to bacterial infections. Prof Falko Steinbach from the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency pointed out that while the bacterium exists, it had not been known to cause such severe disease. The ongoing drought and difficulty finding food might have put the elephants under “severe stress,” allowing the bacterium to overcome their immune defenses.

Implications for Conservation

The findings have raised concerns among conservationists. African savannah elephants are already an endangered species, with only 350,000 remaining in the wild. The potential threat from this bacterium, especially if it can be transmitted among elephants, could have devastating consequences for the species. Laura Rosen from the US-based company Transboundary Epidemiology Analytics emphasized the importance of investigating these deaths to ensure the species’ survival.

Future Studies on Elephant Fatalities

While the discovery of the bacterium provides some answers, many questions remain. More research is needed to understand the relationship between the bacterium, environmental stressors, and the sudden deaths of elephants. There’s also a need to explore potential intervention strategies, including the possibility of a vaccine.

The mysterious deaths of these elephants serve as a stark reminder of the challenges wildlife faces in a changing world.

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