There’s something strange going on in Botswana. And the nation’s best minds are in a scramble to solve the mystery. An investigation is underway to find the cause of the deaths of hundreds of elephants. Over 350 elephant carcasses lay scattered across Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The mysterious elephant carcasses have been around for two months. Sadly, nobody has the faintest idea of why the majestic animals are dying.
Botswana and Wildlife
Botswana is the third-largest reserve or home to Africa’s elephant population, which is on a decline. The country has more elephants than any other in all of Africa. The estimate given by the Great Elephant Census (GEC) is 130,451. However, hundreds of them fell victim to poaching and hundreds more to an unknown cause. Botswana’s government states that three laboratories in South Africa, Canada, and Zimbabwe are processing samples from the elephant carcasses in the Okavango Delta to help pinpoint the cause of death.
The Scary Numbers
The Elephants prepared a report Without Borders conservation organization for the government. The EWB took aerial surveys of the affected area, which displayed that elephants of all ages were dying from an unidentified cause. Counting elephants in Botswana is no easy task with how many there are, and members of the EWB spend hundreds of hours flying in a small plane 300 feet above the land, peering out at the plains and counting every elephant in sight. With over 30,000 elephants lost every year to poaching, and nearly 144,000 lost to poaching since 2007, it must have been a heartbreaking sight to count so many elephant carcasses. And what’s saddening is not knowing the cause of their untimely death now.
A representative, Dr. Niall McCann, from National Park Rescue UK, informed the BBC that the Botswana government heard about the strange elephant deaths from local conservationists in early May 2020. This was after a flight over the delta brought it to their attention. In this three-hour-long flight across the delta, they saw over 169 elephant carcasses. A month afterward, investigations uncovered more deaths, bringing the tally to more than 350. This is an unprecedented occurrence about the number of elephant deaths in a single event, barring drought events.
Why They Are Ruling out Poaching
Authorities are ruling out poaching as the elephants still have their tusks. Other findings point out a cause very different from poaching. Only the elephants are dying, no other animals. And if this is a job of poachers, they would commonly use poisons like anthrax or cyanide. This will only lead to many other animals in the wild dying, too, from the poisoning. Anthrax poisoning killed over 100 elephants in 2019. However, that’s a small number in comparison to the 350 elephant deaths this year.
However, we cannot completely rule out poisoning or disease. It shows that the elephants are dying peculiarly. The reason to say this is because most elephants were found dead in a position that shows they dropped onto their faces. This is an unusual way for a massive animal like an elephant to die. There have been sightings of many elephants walking in circles, indicating there may be an attack on their neurological systems. Without being able to rule out disease as a cause of death, there can be no ruling out the possibility of disease crossing into the human population. This is a concern if the reason lies in either soil or the water sources of the area. Dr. McCann suggests that this is a serious concern as the current COVID-19 pandemic, had it’s roots in the animals too, before crossing into the human population and affecting the whole world.
The deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana is a conservation disaster. Besides that, it could also be a potential public health risk as the underlying cause is not certain yet. Therefore there are many concerns, and identifying the cause of deaths is critical.
For an animal population that sought out Botswana as their refuge, this truly is a deeply saddening event. Botswana’s beauty lies in seeing elephants everywhere, under the tres, at the watering hole, and by the riverside. But poaching and this mystery cause of death have stolen too many elephant lives in recent years, and conservationists fear the worst for this majestic animal’s future.