Park authorities in Zimbabwe are investigating the mysterious death of 11 elephants in the western region of the country after ruling out cyanide poisoning and poaching, according to a Sunday Associated Press report.
The carcasses were first discovered on Friday in Pandamascue Forest, between Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest natural reserve, and Victoria Falls. The dead elephants still had their tusks, ruling out poachers, per the AP. Zimbabwe is home to the second-largest elephant population in the world, estimated at 85,000, and in recent years has been struggling with poachers poisoning dozens of elephants to cut off their tusks and sell them to illegal ivory traders.
Park authorities have collected blood samples from the elephant carcasses and are currently analyzing them to determine the cause of death, Tinashe Farawo, a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, told the outlet.
“We can only ascertain the cause of death after the tests. But we have ruled out cyanide poisoning,” Farawo said. “Only elephants were affected, no vultures or any other animals were affected. Initial tests show that it is not cyanide. We are also ruling out poachers because the tusks were intact.”
As if this wasn’t enough of a head-scratcher, hundreds of elephants were found dead earlier this year in neighboring Botswana in another mystery scientists are still trying to unravel. They’ve ruled out poaching, pesticides, agrochemicals, and pathogens so far, and now the country’s environment ministry has moved on to investigating environmental factors such as naturally occurring toxins as a potential cause.
A grisly drought in Zimbabwe last year caused roughly 200 elephants to starve to death in national parks, so this year’s record-breaking heat probably can’t be ruled out as a factor, sad as it is to say.