Hundreds of elephants have died mysteriously within a few weeks in Botswana, what conservationists have called a “conservation disaster”.
Although the cause of death is still unknown, it has been determined that at least 350 elephants have died in the Okavango Delta since the beginning of May.
The Botswana government has not yet examined the animals’ bodies for traces of poison or pathogens, but anthrax, originally considered the most likely cause, has been ruled out.
The tusks on the carcasses were found intact, suggesting that ivory poaching was not the cause of death. Anthrax is a naturally occurring toxin found in the soil in parts of Botswana and is known to occasionally affect wildlife, but the authorities say it is not the cause.
Dr Niall McCann, director of conservation at the UK-based National Park Rescue, told The Guardian:
“This is a mass extinction on a scale not seen for a very, very long time. Apart from the drought, I know of no other dying that has been so significant.
When we are dealing with a mass death of elephants near human dwellings at a time when wildlife diseases are on everyone’s lips, it seems extraordinary that the government has not sent the samples to a reputable laboratory.
Looking at the carcasses, some of them fell directly on their faces, which indicates that they died very quickly. Others apparently die more slowly, like those who wander. So it is very difficult to tell what this poison is.
Locals in the area had reported seeing the elephants running in circles, which suggests that they were neurologically damaged either by a pathogen or by a poison.
It is feared that more elephants will die in the coming weeks, and locals reported that some of them look and have emancipated themselves after a week.
Botswana is home to one third of the elephants living in Africa. The country’s Ministry of Wildlife issued a press release in May about the mysterious deaths and said
“So far, veterinary officials have ruled out the possibility of poaching, as all the elephants’ carcasses were found intact.”
In this connection, the public is warned against eating meat from such dead animals as it could be harmful to their health.
The public was also urged to report any further quotes of dead elephants to the authorities.