Hundreds of elephants have died mysteriously in Botswana in a matter of weeks, in what conservationists have described as a ‘conservation disaster’. Though the cause of death is still not known, it was gathered that at least 350 elephants have died since the beginning of May in the Okavango Delta.
Botswana’s government has not yet tested the animals’ bodies for traces of poison or pathogens, but anthrax initially considered the most likely cause has been ruled out. The tusks on the carcasses were found intact, suggesting ivory poaching was not the cause of death. Anthrax is a naturally-occurring poison found in the soil in parts of Botswana and has been known to occasionally affect wildlife, but authorities say it isn’t the cause.
Director of conservation at UK-based National Park Rescue, Dr Niall McCann told The Guardian:
‘This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant.
‘When we’ve got a mass die-off of elephants near human habitation at a time when wildlife disease is very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it seems extraordinary that the government has not sent the samples to a reputable lab.
‘If you look at the carcasses, some of them have fallen straight on their face, indicating they died very quickly. Others are obviously dying more slowly, like the ones that are wandering around. So it’s very difficult to say what this toxin is’.
Locals in the area had reported seeing the elephants walking in circles, suggesting they have been neurologically impaired either by a pathogen or a poison. There are fears more elephants will die in the coming weeks, with locals reporting some looking week and emancipated.
Botswana is home to a third of elephants living in Africa. The country’s Department of Wildlife issued a press release in May regarding the mysterious deaths and said:
“So far, veterinary officers have ruled out possibility of poaching because all carcasses of the elephants were found intact.
“In this regard, the public is cautioned against the consumption of meat of such dead animals as that may be detrimental to health.”
The public was also urged to report any other citing of dead elephants to the authorities.