Over 350 elephants have been found dead in Botswana in a mysterious mass-die off even as experts demand urgent testing, to ascertain the cause of these deaths.
The carcasses were discovered near the county’s northern Okavango Delta in May, most of which were clustered around watering holes. Reports have confirmed that the elephant were not killed by ivory theiveing poachers.
Director of conservation at the National Park Rescue NI all McCann said, “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”.
“It’s a conservation disaster it speaks of a country that is failing to protect its most valuable resource”, he said.
“The two most likely causes of death are poisoning or an unknown pathogen, however, the Botswana government has not yet tested samples so there’s no way of telling whether the animals pose a risk to people, according to the outlet.
“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,” McCann said in a reference to the coronavirus crisis.
“There is no precedent for this being a natural phenomenon but without proper testing, it will never be known.”
“Witnesses say some of the elephants were seen walking around in circles a sign of neurological impairment and some appeared weak and emaciated.
“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.
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.
“Cyanide poisoning, which is often used by poachers in Zimbabwe, could be a cause of death but scavenging animals do not appear to be dying after eating the carcasses, according to local reports cited by the outlet”, McCann added.
Even though the African elephant is steadily going extinct due to persistent poaching, Botswana is home to almost a third of the species and their numbers there are rising. There are approximately 150,000 elephants in the country, while just 20 years ago there were 80,000.
The boost in elephant numbers on reserves led to an increase in complaints of destroyed crops and homes, prompting President Mokgweetsi Masisi to lift a five-year ban on big game hunting in May 2019 despite outcry from animal conservationists.
The 2020 hunting season has yet to get off the ground though, as the Covid-19 pandemic severely limited air travel around the world and hunters from many coronavirus-hit countries simply could not enter Botswana.