Oxygen Wars – The Case of Sudden Death of Healthy Zebras and Rhinos – Whodunnit?

Majid Ali, M.D.

A Revealing Whodunnit?

of Conflicts Among Oxygen-Lovers and Oxygen-Haters


Today is August 4, 2015. At about 10.30 pm, I started watching a nature show about inexplicable sudden deaths of black rhino, zebras, and deer in a wildlife reserve in South Africa. From scene to scene were pictures of well-preserved animal carcasses. What puzzled the park rangers and animal pathologists was the sudden demise of different animal species which clearly had been in good health until their deaths. Fungal toxins from oxygen-depleted drinking water was my first thought. I shared that with Talat, my wife. She was not surprised, nor impressed.


Anthrax As the Culprit? The park staff and pathologist spoke about anthrax being the culprit and showed many photographs of animals and people who had died of the toxins of anthrax bacterium. Their suspicions seemed reasonable.  However, I learned some decades ago that unexplained mass deaths in nature are most likely to be related to “oxygen problems” that allow overgrowth of oxygen-hating microbes (fungi and related algae).


Oxygen Wars

I learned my “oxygen lessons” from my study of the mass deaths of butterflies, bees, bats, and frogs. The scientists studying them had blamed all possible sources of death. I read about their suspicions and evidence but could not shake off my evolutionary view of the equilibrium between oxygen-loving life forms and oxygen-hating microbes. In all those case, eventually there was consensus among investigators that the culprits were oxygen-hating fungi. I published a series of articles on the subject starting in 2004.


Killer Fungus Kills Olive Trees  Then in 2014, I read accounts of mass death of olive trees in souther Italy. Again. suspicions of local farmers and plant pathologists (Italian and Americans) were limited to bacterial species. In the end, a fungus turned out to be the prime culprit.


Animal Ecology Ignored The TV story of death of rhino, zebras, and deer continued. There was no reference by anyone  to what environmental changes might have lead to the death of animals. No surprise there. People pathologists do not think ecologically. Why would animal pathologists do so I saw animal pathologist performing autopsies on dead animals. After 29 years of work as a hospital pathologist, I stopped doing autopsies in 1996 when I left Holy Name Medical Center. I was amused by the thought of how alien the idea of doing pathologists had become for me. And how interesting the microscopic images of dead and dying liver cells had become. There were no microbes in the microscopic fields. The picture was of severe and fatal chemical poisoning. Fungal toxins, I murmured, still awaiting the official verdict.


Another Victory of Oxygen – Haters Over Oxygen-Lovers The TV documentary ended with the pathologist  giving the final diagnosis: Poisoning With Toxins of blue algae of Microcystis species. Stagnant water in man-made watering holes had become so oxygen-depleted that it created perfect conditions for luxuriant growth of blue algae. In the evolutionary Oxyphils – Oxyphobes conflict, oxygen-haters had again prevailed. Who

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