Botswana is investigating a growing number of unexplained deaths of elephants, having confirmed 275 had died, the government said on Thursday.
The dead elephants were first spotted months ago in the Okavango Panhandle region. Authorities say they have since been trying to discover the cause. Poaching has been ruled out as the cause of death, as the carcasses were found intact.
“We have had a report of 356 dead elephants in the area north of the Okavango Delta and we have confirmed 275 so far,” Cyril Taolo, the acting director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks said. “We do not suspect poaching since (the) animals were found with tusks.”
Samples have been collected and sent to specialized laboratories in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Canada for testing.
“It seems they were dying very suddenly in some cases,” conservation biologist Keith Lindsay said. “The carcasses were animals that had fallen down while walking…very unusual. Up to now there doesn’t seem to be any clear sign of the reason for it. When something like this happens it is alarming.”
In a report prepared for the government, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), a conservation organization, said that its aerial surveys showed that elephants of all ages and sex appeared to be dying.
Walking in circles before dying
“One elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although being encouraged by other herd members,” the report said. “Several live elephants appeared to have been weak, lethargic and emaciated, with some showing signs of disorientation, difficulty in walking or limping.”
They suspect the elephants have been dying in the area in the past three months. EWB said urgent action was needed to establish if the deaths were caused by disease or poisoning.