African Elephant Mystery: Climate Crisis and Bacterial Infection Blamed for Mass Deaths

Dozens of African elephants died in Zimbabwe between August and November 2020, under baffling circumstances, leaving scientists and experts puzzled. According to a new report authored by scientists, the cause of the mysterious mass deaths has finally been unraveled. The outbreaks are believed to be more likely to occur amid conditions created by the ongoing climate crisis, raising concerns about the future of these majestic creatures.

The study, co-authored by Dr. Chris Foggin, a veterinarian at Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust in Zimbabwe, revealed that 35 African elephants in northwestern Zimbabwe succumbed to a bacterial infection that caused septicemia, or blood poisoning. The deaths occurred within a narrow window, with eleven of the massive herd animals dying within a 24-hour period, making it a unique and concerning event.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, also showed evidence of the infection by a little-known bacterium called Bisgaard taxon 45. This infection is believed to have spread as food and water resources dwindled during the dry season, forcing the elephants to travel increasing distances to look for water and to forage.

The extreme conditions that scientists project will occur with more frequency as Earth warms could mean more elephant deaths in the future. The African elephant is an endangered species that faces significant pressure from poaching and habitat loss, with population numbers diminishing by 144,000 to about 350,000 between 2007 and 2014.

The study also noted that there was no evidence of toxins or any viral infection, as well as no evidence of poaching, external signs of trauma, or anthrax. Despite these findings, it is still unclear whether climate change influenced the mass deaths, but there are concerns that future droughts or changes in rainfall patterns may lead to similar mortality events. The researchers failed to detect the bacteria in some samples, attributing this to poor sample quality and delays in obtaining the necessary permits for analysis.

In conclusion, the study sheds light on the tragic deaths of African elephants in Zimbabwe, highlighting the impact of climate change and bacterial infections on the vulnerable species. It serves as a reminder of the urgent need to address the threats facing the African elephant population and take proactive measures to mitigate the impact of the ongoing climate crisis.