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More than 350 elephants found dead in Botswana

Pritam Kashyap
Pritam Kashyap

More than 350 elephants have died in northern Botswana in a mysterious mass die-off described by scientists as a conservation disaster. Dr Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue said, “Colleagues in the southern African country had spotted more than 350 elephant carcasses in the Okavango Delta since the start of May.”

No one knows why the animals are dying, with lab results on samples still weeks away, according to the government. Botswana is home to a third of Africa's elephants and 10% of those are in this region, so this could have a real impact on the global population.

A cluster of elephant deaths was first reported in the Okavango Delta in early May, with 169 individuals dead by the end of the month. By mid-June, the number had more than doubled, with 70% of the deaths clustered around waterholes, according to local sources who wish to remain anonymous as per the report of the Guardian.

Louis Stedman-Bryce, Entrepreneur & Former Member of the European Parliament tweeted, “One of the greatest experiences in my life has to be visiting the Okavango Delta in Botswana, where you are surrounded by the most amazing wildlife and none more so amazing than the beautiful African Elephant. This is extremely sad and concerning news.”

Elephants of all ages and both sexes have been dying, local reports have found. Several live elephants appeared weak and emaciated, suggesting more will die in the coming weeks. The true number of deaths is likely to be even higher because carcasses can be difficult to spot, say, conservationists.

Cyanide poisoning can be linked to the death but not sure as it often used by poachers in Zimbabwe, but scavenging animals do not seem to be dying at the carcasses. Local reports say there were fewer vultures on carcasses than expected, but none showed signs of abnormal behaviour. Some also say COVID-19 can be a possible cause but is considered unlikely.

Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana's department of wildlife and national parks, told the Guardian they had so far confirmed at least 280 elephants had died and were in the process of confirming the rest.However, they did not know what was causing the animals' deaths.

"We have sent [samples] off for testing and we are expecting the results over the next couple of weeks or so," he said.

Elephants and eco-tourism account for a huge part of Botswana's GDP, which means this could risk an economic crisis as well as a public health one. The main threat to Africa's elephant population is poaching, but in Botswana, numbers have grown from 80,000 in the late 1990s to 130,000 in recent years.

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