The mysterious mass deaths among elephants in Botswana may have stopped, survey suggests

Business Insider SA
Aerial views of elephants that have been found dead in Botswana National Park Rescue
  • 281 elephants are now officially confirmed to have died in Botswana in recent months, cause still unknown.
  • But a part-completed aerial survey has found no new carcasses so far, suggesting that the cause may have disappeared.
  • The cause is still unknown, although Botswana's government says it is now analysing lab results that have finally started coming in.
  • Poaching was ruled out early, for lack of evidence of any attempt to recover the tusks from carcasses.
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Botswana's elephants may have stopped dying, a part-completed survey suggests.

Botswana's wildlife and national parks department and the Eco-exist project, which focusses on "reducing conflict and fostering coexistence between elephants and people", launched last week.

"To date, there have not been any new mortalities observed during the survey," said the country's environment ministry in a statement on Wednesday.

The survey is due to be completed by the end of July.

As many as 350 elephants are feared to have died since May, thought the official count now stands at 281.

Some of the elephants seem to die quite suddenly. No similar deaths have been reported on the Namibian side of the border.

The Botswana government said it had now received bacterial and toxicology results from labs in Botswana, and the results of tissue testing from labs in South Africa and Zimbabwe. It is still waiting on toxicology reports from SA and the USA, and virus testing in SA.

The government has not released details of those results, saying only that it is analysing the findings.

Drought and anthrax both cause mass casualties among the population, but those have been ruled out this time around. 

The fact that the animals' tusks were not removed until the government started to dispose of the carcasses suggests that, if humans are involved, poaching is not the motive. 

And cyanide poisoning would have affected other animals too, experts say, which does not seem to be the case; neither scavengers nor animals that share the water near which dead elephants were found have shown any symptoms.

One fear is that a novel disease may be at work – but a sudden end to the deaths would suggest that is not the case.

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