ZimParks seeks help over death of elephants

THE Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) has enlisted the services of international scientists to determine the cause of death of 34 elephants between Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls conservation area.

This comes as initial investigations have shown that the animals could have succumbed to a disease called Hemorrhagic Septicemia (HS) caused by bacteria known as pasteurella multocida.
Appearing before parliament’s portfolio committee on environment to give oral evidence on the death of the elephants, ZimParks director-general Fulton Mangwanya said although Zimbabwe had an estimated elephant population of over 84 000, the bacterial infection was worrisome as it could spread to other animals and result in massive loss of wildlife.
“The death of elephants in the Victoria Falls area has caught the attention of conservationists in Zimbabwe and across the globe.
“ZimParks has been working on the ground together with the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust to identify the disease and factors contributing to the outbreak and the way forward.

“The first death was reported on August 24, 2020 and before that scattered deaths had occurred from 2020. In 2019, during the dry season, 200 elephants are known to have died in Hwange National Park and sporadic deaths were recorded in the Victoria Falls area.

“A total of 34 carcasses have been found on the ground and by aerial of surveillance between 24 August and 23 September, 2020, but it is likely others have not been located. The most recent death was located on 11 September, so it is likely that the mortality is continuing,” Mangwanya said.
He added that most of the dead elephants were under the age of 15 years, with the youngest being 18 months and the oldest 25 years.
“Samples have been sent to the UK after an offer was made by authorities of that country. These will undergo bacterial typing, DNA analysis for disease causing bacteria and water analysis for toxins and confirmation of Zimbabwe’s histopathological analysis.
“Permits have been processed to South Africa for bacterial culture and typing as well. Permits have been applied for and we are ready to send samples to the USA for DNA analysis of bacteria. If necessary, brain tissue will be sent to the USA for blue-green algae bacteria toxins,” Mangwanya said.
“No visibly sick animals are being observed, indicating that the infection results in instant death. Comprehensive post-mortems have been done on four of the elephants and samples collected for laboratory tests and another six have been sampled without opening the carcasses. Some water samples have also been collected from where elephants have been drinking.
“All four carcasses which were examined thoroughly showed the same pathological findings. These include enlarged blood vessels, enlarged and inflamed liver, limited inflation of liver and inflamed brain. These major findings were also found to be indicative of acute infections disease rather than poison,” he added.
Mangwanya said the bacterial infection had been known to cause death in cattle, chickens, pigs and buffaloes in Africa.
Meanwhile, asked about mining activities in national parks, Mangwanya said the parks were protected areas where such activities should not take place.
“National parks are no-go areas and that is why there was so much noise when mining activities started taking place there.
“There was so much pressure that the guys were just allowed to drill six holes to determine if there is anything in the ground. But if you see the letter that was circulating, it said this does not mean you are supposed to mine.
“Then eventually the response came to say no mining in the national parks.”

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