As many as 350 elephant carcasses were discovered during aerial surveys of the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana since the beginning of May. Officials investigating the sudden spike in the number of elephant deaths in the area are yet to identify the cause, but have ruled out the possibility of anthrax poisoning, The Guardian reported.
Local conservationists first alerted the Botswana Government in May, after they spotted 169 carcasses during a three-hour aerial survey. A month later, at least 181 more elephant remains were discovered, bringing the total to over 350, BBC reported. A majority of the carcasses, as many as 70 per cent, were discovered around waterholes, a local source told The Guardian.
“We are aware of the elephants that are dying. Out of the 350 animals we have confirmed 280 of those animals. We are still in the process of confirming the rest,” Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana’s department of wildlife and national parks, told the Guardian.
With lab results on samples still weeks away, Botswana officials are in the process of looking into possible causes for the increase in the number of elephant deaths. They have narrowed it down to two potential causes — poisoning and disease. While experts have tentatively said that anthrax is not behind the deaths, they are yet to rule out the use of cyanide.
Some local witnesses claim that the elephants were seen walking around in circles, which suggests the possibility of some form of neurological impairment, The Guardian reported. Further, while the footage shows that some of the elephants fell straight on their face and died quickly, other elephants appear to have died more slowly. This variation has made it difficult for officials to identify the toxin that could be causing these deaths.
Last year, more than 100 elephants died in Botswana over a period of two months due to a suspected anthrax outbreak, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, data released by conservation NGO Elephants Without Borders last year stated that the number of elephant carcasses increased by 593% between 2014 and 2018. These deaths were largely caused by poaching and illegal hunting, as well as drought conditions.
Around 10% of Botswana’s total number of elephants reside in the Okavango Delta. According to recent data, the number of total elephants stands at around 15,000.
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