Mystery surrounds death of hundreds of elephants in Botswana

0207 July 2 Elephant Botswana. DO NOT CREDIT ANYONE
400 elephants have been found dead in Botswana.

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Hundreds of elephants have mysteriously died over the past two months in a “disaster for conservation” in Botswana.

Up to 400 elephants have been found dead in the Okavango Delta by conservationists, with fears more could die from a possible disease or toxin in the area.

Laboratory test results are still some time away after initial delays in sending samples – but witnesses have reported worrying signs in the animals.

Conservationists on the ground have reported dying elephants walking around in circles, and others dying flat on their faces, which suggests something is impacting their brain function.

It is not know what is causing the deaths.

“The position of the bodies and the fact that some living elephants were seen to be losing their motor functions seems to indicate that this toxin, whatever it is, is affecting their nervous system,” a spokesperson for National Park Rescue (NPR) said.

“The fact that there is a currently-unidentified nerve agent in an area so close to human habitation is very concerning, particularly at a time when the transfer of disease from animals to people is on everyone’s mind.”

Poison has not been ruled out, according to the NPR, though it could also be disease or a naturally occurring toxin.

There are fears poachers will be attracted to the area to try and get the tusks of dead elephants.

Botswana does not have the capacity to run toxicology tests, so samples have been sent to a laboratory in Victoria Falls.

But after failing to send the samples earlier – and then to a laboratory without the required capacity – there are fears the samples are now old and “of dubious origin”.

“The most important thing now is for an independent team to visit the area, sample multiple carcasses, the soil and the water ways, and identify what is causing the deaths,” the NPR said.

“There is a team in Victoria Falls standing by to go in, and several NGOs have offered to pay for their transport and for any reagents that are needed.

“So this won’t cost the Government of Botswana a penny.”

The deaths have been occurring for several weeks.

With roughly 800 tusks now lying unguarded, there are also fears poachers may be tempted to the area.

Botswana has the largest population of elephants in Africa, around one-third of all elephants on the continent.

“There is no precedent for this being a natural phenomenon but without proper testing, it will never be known,” the NPR warned, adding it is “astonishing” the government hasn’t yet identified a cause.

“Unless the government starts to cooperate with NGOs with the resources and capacity to deal with the emergency, elephants will continue to die.”