More Than 150 Elephants Have Died In Mysterious Circumstances In Botswana
Over the past two months, more than 150 elephants have died in Botswana. Their exact cause of death remains unknown.
The mass die-off has left wildlife officials bewildered, especially after initial tests ruled out poisoning by humans and anthrax, a bacteria found in soil that occasionally flares up in parts of the country. It isn’t a case of poaching either, as no ivory has been taken from the carcasses so far.
Botswana is home to the world’s largest elephant population, holding around a third of Africa’s elephants at around 130,000 animals. Currently, there’s no official diagnosis for the surge in deaths.
Regional Wildlife Coordinator Dimakatso Ntshebe told Reuters: ‘We are still awaiting results on the exact cause of death.’ As previously noted, the carcasses were found intact therefore ruling out poaching, however, the country’s Department of Wildlife has began removing the ivory tusks from the corpses to discourage poachers.
Noting that the animals look rather sickly, Ntshebe told Voice of America:
We are still experiencing elephants dying in the Okavango Panhandle. We also see elephants that show that they are sick and are on the verge of dying.
We have started removing the tusks in the dead elephants, and we have started burning the carcasses. We have started with those [carcasses], which are close to the villages, and those that are lying in the water. The idea is to burn as many carcasses as possible. However, we have a challenge since some of the carcasses are in areas which are difficult to reach.
Locals have also been discouraged from consuming any meat from the dead elephants, suggesting that tests are still taking place for some sort of poisoning or disease.
Tissue samples have reportedly been sent for testing, however results could be delayed due to the current pandemic – across Botswana, there’s been 79 confirmed cases of the virus with one death.
While well-managed reserves have benefitted Botswana’s elephant population, the government lifted a five-year ban on hunting them back in 2019 as ‘high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing’ as they destroy crops, as per a statement from the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism.
Commenting on this move last year, Mike Chase, director of Elephants Without Borders, told National Geographic:
Sharing their lives with a five-ton animal that threatens their lives, destroys their crops, damages their properties – I share their anguish. But you have to weigh that up and consider the international backlash… and how that may undermine our economy, our jobs, and our reputation for being at the forefront of conservation.
This year’s hunting season hasn’t seen as strong an interest due to travel restrictions related to the outbreak.
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CreditsReuters and 2 others
Voice of America