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September 23, 2020 - Inverse

Why an ancient organism is killing elephants at an alarming rate

Why an ancient organism is killing elephants at an alarming rate
Elephant in Botswana© Photabulous!

Botswana is home to one-third of the elephant population in Africa. So when hundreds of elephants mysteriously died starting in May 2020, scientists and news organizations sounded the alarm.

Now, scientists have confirmed that neurotoxins in the water are behind the untimely deaths — the source of which is a type of algae directly intertwined with the evolution of humans. Toxic cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, has been poisoning the elephants' drinking water, resulting in more than 300 deaths, officials said this week.

Cyril Taolo, deputy director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Botswana, broke the news, saying this specific type of neurotoxin that is responsible for the deaths is yet to be studied: "What we just know at this point is that it’s a toxin caused by cyanobacteria,” Taolo said. Cyanobacteria, indeed, can be toxic, causing damage to animal and human nervous systems. But not all classes of the microorganism, which lives in soil and water, are harmful.

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