Zimbabwe elephants died from bacterial disease, say experts

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (AP) — Parks authorities in Zimbabwe said yesterday that the recent deaths of elephants have been caused by a bacterial disease that has previously affected elephants in Asia and other animals in southern Africa, although more tests will still be carried out.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Director-General Fulton Mangwanya told a parliamentary committee that 34 elephants have died so far and “many” more could still die “in the short term”.

“All results to date point to the cause of these elephant deaths being a disease known as haemorrhagic septicemia,” said Mangwanya, noting that the disease does not appear to have been previously recorded as causing deaths among African savannah elephants.

“However, it has been reported to kill Asian elephants in India. It has also affected cattle and chickens in southern Africa in which it can cause massive mortality. It has also been recognised in buffalo and some other wildlife species in this part of this world,” he said.

He said the disease “may have been around in elephants in this region for some time”, pointing to specimens from two dead elephants from the vast Hwange National Park in 2019 that showed “the same microscopic pathology”, although a definitive diagnosis could not be made at that time.

Most of the elephants that died recently in the Pandamasue Forest, located between Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls, were weak or young, mostly under 15.

The dead elephants were found with their tusks still on their bodies, ruling out poaching. In recent years poachers in Zimbabwe have poisoned dozens of elephants with cyanide and then have taken their ivory tusks to sell them to illegal traders.

The parks authorities also said toxic water was an unlikely cause because the country has been pumping “clean water” from wells during this dry season.