Apart from the shock and disbelief caused by consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, new horrible news devastated the world. In the past few months, over 350 elephants have died in Botswana.
The mass deaths of these animals made scientists growingly concerned, and they are unsure of the cause of this “conservation disaster”.
In May, researchers started worrying about the entire thing, after 169 elephants were found dead in the Okavango Delta. By mid-June, the number doubled.
According to Dr. Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue, this mass die-off is extremely strange:
“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.”
Yet, there are a few clues regarding the reason for it.
Locals have said that about 70% of the elephants have died around waterholes, so some researchers believe that the water might be somehow poisoned or tainted. However, water samples have not been tested by the government of Botswana yet.
“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.”
The Guardian has reported that the possibilities involve an unknown pathogen or poisoning, and Anthrax has been ruled out.
McCann also explained that it was determined that many of the animals died off quickly, judging by how they had fallen straight down on their faces. Yet, a lot of them appeared to die more slowly, so “it’s very difficult to say what this toxin is.”
McCann said that elephants have been seen walking around in circles, which might mean that they have been afflicted by a neurological condition.
He added that even COVID-19 has been suggested as a possible cause, but researchers claim that this is highly unlikely. Some officials have reportedly suspected cyanide poisoning, which is usually used by poachers in Zimbabwe.
It was reported that fewer vultures were seen on carcasses, but none showed signs of abnormal behavior. Government officials added that there is no evidence that the mysterious deaths are caused by poaching.
Additionally, neighboring countries have not reported mass elephant deaths, so the case is somewhat localized.
Local reports found that elephants of all ages and both sexes have been dying, and several more seem weak and confused, so they expect more deaths in the future. Conservationists fear that the true number of deaths is even higher, as the carcasses are hard to spot.
The delta is the home of about 15,000 elephants or nearly 10% of the total population for the African country. Botswana has the largest elephant population in the world or around 130,000 elephants that live within its borders.
Last year, the government of Botswana lifted the ban on hunting wildlife, so international poachers can buy their hunting rights for an expensive price.
The newly elected government explains that this decision was made after elephants started to have an impact on people’s livelihoods as they increasingly came into contact with humans.
In the rest of the world, elephants are generally considered endangered, and in Africa, they are listed as vulnerable, but their overhunting and habitat loss contribute to their rapid decline.