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Mystery of hundreds of elephants found dead in Botswana

An elephant carcass in Botswana, where 356 of the animals have been found dead by unknown causes in recent weeks.
An elephant carcass in Botswana, where 356 of the animals have been found dead by unknown causes in recent weeks. © Reuters / France 24
2 min

Nearly 400 elephants have been found dead in Botswana in recent weeks but local authorities and wildlife experts are struggling to find an explanation, with disease and poisoning among the possible causes.

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The reports of the deaths in the northern Okavango Delta region first began in early May. Since then, the government has confirmed 275 deaths.

But aerial surveys by wildlife group Elephants Without Borders have counted some 356 elephant carcasses.

Poaching has been ruled out as a cause, as the ivory has not been removed from the elephants.

Infectious disease as well as poisoning by farmers have also been considered and samples from the elephants have been sent to labs in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Canada for testing.

"At this stage it’s difficult to really tell what could be the cause of the mortality,” Mmadi Reuben, head veterinarian at the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, told AFP.

“We have eliminated from the local labs the possibility of anthrax being the cause of the mortality, but there are still of a lot of infectious diseases and potentially other toxins that are still being investigated by the laboratory samples that have been collected."

The unexplained deaths have sparked concern among wildlife groups, with Botswana previously considered a safe-haven for elephants.

The country is home to almost a third of Africa’s elephants and although numbers are declining across the continent due largely to poaching, Botswana’s elephant population has grown to 130,000 from 80,000 in the late 1990s.

But elephants are seen as a growing nuisance by farmers whose crops have been destroyed by the animals, while last year the country controversially lifted a five-year ban on elephant hunting.

 

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