Authorities are considering whether the death of hundreds of elephants in Botswana in recent weeks was caused by a new virus or poison, according to the government. Although the Botswana executive is still unaware of what caused the death of these animals, testing continues and authorities have already ruled out poaching and anthrax. Among the possible causes that the authorities are evaluating, in an investigation that includes the help of laboratories in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Great Britain and the United States, are a new virus and poisoning.
In early July, authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the African country announced the deaths of hundreds of elephants in the tourist region of the Okavango Delta during the past few months, suspecting a mysterious disease.
At the time, Botswana’s director of national parks and wildlife, Cyril Taolo, confirmed the death of at least 275 elephants, while a report by the NGO Elephants Without Borders (EWB) pointed to the death of 356 elephants in that region.
Although there has been no indication of fresh carcasses or signs that mortality has spread beyond the initial area, the district team on the ground will continue to monitor the situation, remove the ivory from the carcasses and take it for safe custody, as well as destroying those close to villages and human settlements, according to the acting permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Conservation of Natural Resources and Tourism, Oduetse Koboto. The results of the investigations are expected to be known this week.
The National Veterinary Laboratory in Botswana has yet to establish the causes of death of the animals, after examining 281 elephant carcasses found in the popular Okavango Delta area in the north of the country. “It is one of the biggest disasters with an impact on elephants of this century and soon one of the main tourist destinations in Africa,” said the director of the conservation group National Park Rescue, Mark Hiley.
Located between Zambia, Namibia and South Africa, Botswana is home to about 130,000 free elephants, a third of the known African population.