By Arré Bench Jul. 02, 2020
In what has been described as a “conservation disaster”, more than 350 elephants have died in Botswana. No one knows how.
Weeks ago, amid the coronavirus pandemic, we were greeted with the news of nature and wildlife reclaiming its space with humans forced to a lockdown. But perhaps, not all’s well in the animal kingdom. In South Africa’s Botswana, more than 350 elephant carcasses have been spotted since May.
Even after two months, the deaths of hundreds of pachyderms in the Okavango Delta region continue to be a mystery.
— Guardian news (@guardiannews) July 1, 2020
According to conservation biologist Dr Niall McCan, director of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, local conservationists first spotted a cluster of elephant remains while flying over the region. Post their three-hour long flight, a striking 169 elephant corpses had been reported. By June, the number had more than doubled with the majority found dead around water sources.
Hundreds of elephants 🐘 found dead in Botswana 🇧🇼.
350 carcasses so far found in the Okavango delta, on of the most pristine areas of Africa. Cause of death is unknown.https://t.co/seHDQ0TeIt pic.twitter.com/RNozk6aR3L
— Erik Solheim (@ErikSolheim) July 2, 2020
To the world’s declining elephant population, Botswana is a blessing. A home to more than 135,000 jumbos, it is the world’s largest elephant conservation.
However, the unusual death of the giant species over the past weeks has become a cause for concern. In May, the Botswana government had ruled out the possibility of poaching as the cause of death, noting that the tusks had not been removed. Dr McCan pointed out that no other animals except for the elephants had been dying. “If it was cyanide used by poachers, you would expect to see other deaths,” he told the BBC.
Very disturbing news of sudden deaths of elephants – not thought to be linked with poaching – in Botswana since May. Hoping that the cause and a solution to stop this will be found very soon.
BBC News – Hundreds of elephants found dead in Botswana https://t.co/YpocrpbStY
— Ivonne Higuero (@ivonnehiguero) July 2, 2020
Poachers in Zimbabwe are known to rely on cyanide poisoning to kill elephants. The scavenging animals, however, did not die after consuming these carcasses and have displayed no signs of abnormal behaviour.
Last year, a suspected anthrax poisoning killed over 100 elephants in Botswana while some are said to have succumbed to the drought. But both the government and Dr McCan have ruled out the case of an anthrax outbreak.
12 elephants were found dead in Botswana. Officials do not suspect poaching because they still had their tusks, and are investigating.
Botswana is home to 1/3 of the planet's remaining African elephants. Last year, an anthrax outbreak — caused by drought — wiped out over 100. pic.twitter.com/j6ugtWClEj
— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 20, 2020
While many elephants seemed to have collapsed to their death, their bodies found face down, some locals are said to have witnessed the animals walking around in circles before breathing their last. Dr McCan has stated that whether it’s poisoning or an underlying disease, it seems to have impacted these animals neurologically.
Bittu Sahgal, editor of the wildlife and conservation magazine, Sanctuary Asia, has cited human interference with nature as a leading cause of these unfortunate events.
The elephants are vanishing. Without a shadow of doubt the responsibility lies at the door of humans who not only poach them for ivory & pollute or destroy their habitats but also alter the climate to the point where mass deaths become the order of the day https://t.co/eBEsUbgOfQ
— Bittu Sahgal (@BittuSahgal) July 2, 2020
Actress and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Dia Mirza has expressed her distress at the escalating death toll.
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) July 2, 2020
Dhanraj Nathwani, Vice President of Gujarat Cricket Association, and a self-declared wildlife enthusiast calls the event “extremely tragic”.
Extremely tragic & completely unprecedented that 350 #Elephants died in #Botswana in the last 2 months under mysterious circumstances. While lab results will take time, no one knows the cause of death. #Poaching is ruled out as tusks have not been removed.https://t.co/2WHJI3PeAT pic.twitter.com/vVcXTMOROz
— Dhanraj Nathwani (@DhanrajNathwani) July 2, 2020
Human rights activist Kifefe Kizza-Besigye has stressed on quarantining the parks “until [the] cause of this has been established.”
— Kifefe Kizza-Besigye (@kizzabesigye1) July 2, 2020
At the moment the samples of elephant carcasses have been sent to labs for testing but it might be weeks before we can draw any conclusions. With the corona outbreak that started from a mammal, Dr McCan argues that this could be another disaster in the making. “Yes, it is a conservation disaster – but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis,” he said.
With the recent findings of the new G4 EA H1N1 in China, said to have pandemic potential, the possibility of a whole another crisis has everyone on the edge. Oh 2020, can you give us a break?