A mysterious mass die-off of more than 350 elephants in northern Botswana over the last two months has made the experts worried. Botswana’s government is yet to test the remains of the remains of the dead animals in what has been described as a ‘conservation disaster’. The exact reason behind the death of the animals are not known and the result of the lab tests are weeks away.
In the starting of May the first death of an elephant was reported in the Okavango Delta and by the end of the month more than 169 deaths were reported. According to local sources, most of the cases clustered around water holes and the death toll doubled with 70% by mid June.
“There is real concern regarding the delay in getting the samples to an accredited laboratory for testing in order to identify the problem – and then take measures to mitigate it,” said Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency in London.
Dr McCann, of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, told “A month later, further investigations identified many more carcasses, bringing the total to over 350.”
“This is totally unprecedented in terms of numbers of elephants dying in a single event unrelated to drought,” he added.
The government of Botswana ruled out poaching as a possible reason but mentioned the tusks had not been removed which is unusual. Dr McCann pointed out that no other animals were reported dying except elephants. If the poachers had used cyanide, there may have been other deaths, said the expert.
“If you look at the carcasses, some of them have fallen straight on their face, indicating they died very quickly. Others are obviously dying more slowly, like the ones that are wandering around. So it’s very difficult to say what this toxin is,” said McCann.
Elephants of all ages and both sexes have been dying, as per local reports. It is impossible to rule out the chances of a disease crossing into the human population, without knowing the source.