More than 350 elephants have died in a mass die off in Botswana that officials are calling a “conservation disaster.”
Hundreds of elephants dead in mysterious mass die-off https://t.co/UQOY6rMWo1
— The Guardian (@guardian) July 1, 2020
Local officials said that 169 elephants died in May, but that number nearly doubled in June as scientists are searching for a cause, per The Guardian. 70% of the deaths have been around waterholes and the Botswana government has not yet begun testing to determine a cause. (RELATED: REPORT: Swimming Bear With Container Stuck On Head Saved By Wisconsin Family)
“This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time,” said Dr Niall McCann, the director of conservation at National Park Rescue, to The Guardian. “Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant.”
The two main possibilities for the deaths are an unknown pathogen or poisoning, reported The Guardian. Authorities have already ruled out anthrax as a cause and cyanide, a poison used by poachers from Zimbabwe, has also been deemed unlikely as scavengers have not died around the carcasses.
“If you look at the carcasses, some of them have fallen straight on their face, indicating they died very quickly,” said McCann to The Guardian, “Others are obviously dying more slowly, like the ones that are wandering around. So it’s very difficult to say what this toxin is.” Local witnesses said the elephants were walking around in circles, which is a sign of neurological impairment.
Hundreds of elephants dead in mysterious mass die-off in Botswana, government is yet to test the remains of the dead animals in what has been described as a ‘conservation disaster’ https://t.co/HUbzxcy4oz pic.twitter.com/GwKIxyULKY
— WildAid (@WildAid) July 1, 2020
Conservationists said that there are likely more dead elephants, but the carcasses are difficult to spot, per The Guardian. Several elephants of all ages and both sexes have also been found to be weak and emancipated, suggesting that more elephants will die in the next few weeks.
“The Covid-19 restrictions have not helped in the transportation of samples in the region and around the world,” said Dr Cyril Taolo, director of Botswana’s department of wildlife and national parks, to The Guardian. “We’re now beginning to emerge from that and that is why we are now in a position to send the samples to other laboratories.” The source of the deaths, the Okavango Delta, is home to 15,000 elephants which is 10% of the total elephant population of Botswana.