UPDATE 21. September 2020: FAKE NEWS from Botswana: "Mystery elephant deaths caused by cyanobacteria"

UPDATE 14. August 2020: Still no real clue?: Botswana elephant deaths tests inconclusive but poisoning not ruled out. No transparency - bio-warfare exercise can no longer be excluded. Reports from Botswana whistle-blowers, speaking of the involvement of highest government and military officials in this cull, become more and more plausible.

UPDATE 08. August 2020: Botswana Rules out Pesticides and Pathogens as Cause for Elephant Deaths

UPDATE 02. August 2020: Botswana is eager to push the "Natural Toxin" narrative via paid scribes: Natural toxins likely killed hundreds of Botswana elephants: government

UPDATE 31. July 2020: PAID MAINSTREAM MEDIA SPIN: Mysterious mass elephant deaths in Botswana possibly linked to toxin

https://e3.365dm.com/18/03/1600x900/skynews-elephant-crawford-hotspots_4259601.jpg?20180319142141

UPDATE 26. July 2020: BIG SCANDAL: Ministry briefs envoys on elephant deaths, but only states that they would not have any clue. An independent international investigation must now be allowed to find the truth on the mass-death of this iconic world-heritage species. So far the only logic conclusion is that a secret cull (darting with organic neuro-toxins) ordered by highest authority took place to reduce the numbers and fill the governmental ivory stock-pile, whereby the time-delay in allowing for samples to be shipped to laboratories was intentional to allow the toxic components to become untraceable. We also demand full disclosure of the identities of the killed so-called rhino-poachers - especially from the area of the low-level border-war with the Caprivi Strip. Due to the intransparent operations, we can not rule out that once again anti-"poaching"-operations are used as cover for extra-juicial killings of freedom fighters.

UPDATE 23. July 2020: The mystery of Botswana’s dead elephants

UPDATE 14. July 2020: What’s killing Botswana’s elephants? Here are the top theories. - However, we actually need not more speculations and theories, but a proper investigation and hard data from the lab-results. The fact that these have not been provided stinks to the skies - like the the cadavers of the rotting elephant carcasses in Botswana.

UPDATE 10. July 2020: Still no lab results!  Spokesperson for the Elephant Protection Initiative Barnaby Phillips reacts to the death of hundreds elephants under bizarre circumstances in Botswana. (video)

UPDATE 07. July 2020: Still no lab results! Was an organic neuro-toxin used to kill the elephants off and the delay of the investigation imposed in order to allow for the poison to break-down so that no traces of the substance could be found? If so, it was done by officials, who could be sure to collect the ivory later.

UPDATE 06. July 2020: 356 Elephants Died Suddenly. The Cause Is a Mystery.

UPDATE 03. July 2020: Botswana reports mysterious deaths of hundreds of elephants (video)

UPDATE 02. July 2020: Hundreds of Elephants Have Died in Botswana, And We Don't Know Why. Is the delay of the investigation linked to a plot using neuro-toxins to reduce the elephant population? Is the government the heinous poacher? All these questions are so far unanswered. 

UPDATE 01. July 2020: ALERT !!! More than 350 elephants have now died in northern Botswana in a mysterious mass die-off. Has the global bio-warfare now reached the elephants or is it targeted foul play?

UPDATE 22. June 2020: Mystery deepens as elephant death toll hits 170. Reportedly the die-off began already in April, with the first carcasse found on 11th May, 2020 near Seronga, but no appropriate response came from the governance, blaming corona and making excuses.

UPDATE 01. June 2020: Mass Elephant Deaths: Anthrax, Poison Ruled Out in Botswana

Botswana investigates 154 elephant deaths, rules out poisoning, poaching

Botswana is investigating the mysterious deaths of at least 154 elephants over two months in the northwest of the country, a wildlife official said recently, although poaching or poisoning have been ruled out.

By Brian Benza - 17. June 12020

“We are still awaiting results on the exact cause of death,” Regional Wildlife Coordinator Dimakatso Ntshebe told Reuters.

The carcasses were found intact, suggesting they were not poached. Further investigations have also ruled out poisoning by humans and anthrax, which sometimes hits wildlife in this part of Botswana.

Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow to 130,000 from 80,000 in the late 1990s, owing to well managed reserves.

However, they are seen as a growing nuisance by farmers, whose crops have been destroyed by elephants roaming the southern African country.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifted a five-year ban on big game hunting, imposed by previous president Ian Khama, but the hunting season failed to take off in April as global travel restrictions meant hunters from many coronavirus-hit countries could not enter Botswana.

Meanwhile, the Wildlife Department has undertaken an operation to relocate and dehorn all rhinos to tackle poaching in Botswana - mirroring efforts elsewhere in the region.

The Okavango Delta rhino population has been the hardest hit, with 25 reported poached between December and the beginning of May, government figures show, as poachers take advantage of the absence of safari tourists during the pandemic.

That compares with a total of 31 rhinos poached from October 2018 to December last year.

“Both white rhino and black rhinos have been severely affected, necessitating the ... relocation of highly endangered black rhinos (and) intensification of surveillance,” the Department said.

Chobe National Park is Botswana's first national park, and also the most biologically diverse. Located in the north of the country, it is Botswana's third largest park, after Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Gemsbok National Park, and has one of the greatest concentrations of game in all of Africa.

This park is noted for having a population of lions which prey on elephants, mostly calves or juveniles, but even sub adults.

The original inhabitants of this area were the San bushmen (also known as the Basarwa people in Botswana). They were nomadic hunter-gatherers who were constantly moving from place to place to find food sources, namely fruits, water and wild animals. Nowadays one can find San paintings inside rocky hills of the park.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the region that would become Botswana was divided into different land tenure systems. At that time, a major part of the park's area was classified as crown land. The idea of a national park to protect the varied wildlife found here as well as promote tourism first appeared in 1931. The following year, 24,000 km2 (9,300 sq mi) around Chobe district were officially declared non-hunting area; this area was expanded to 31,600 km2 (12,200 sq mi) two years later.

In 1943, heavy tsetse infestations occurred throughout the region, delaying the creation of the national park. By 1953, the project received governmental attention again: 21,000 km2 (8,100 sq mi) were suggested to become a game reserve. Chobe Game Reserve was officially created in 1960, though smaller than initially desired. In 1967, the reserve was declared a national park.

At that time there were several industrial settlements in the region, especially at Serondela, where the timber industry proliferated. These settlements were gradually moved out of the park, and it was not until 1975 that the whole protected area was exempt from human activity. Nowadays traces of the prior timber industry are still visible at Serondela. Minor expansions of the park took place in 1980 and 1987.

The park is widely known for its large elephant population, estimated to be around 50,000. Elephants living here are Kalahari elephants, the largest in size of all known elephant populations. They are characterized by rather brittle ivory and short tusks, perhaps due to calcium deficiency in the soils. Damage caused by the high numbers of elephants is rife in some areas. In fact, concentration is so high throughout Chobe that culls have been considered, but are too controversial and have thus far been rejected. At dry season, these elephants sojourn in Chobe River and the Linyanti River areas. In the rainy season, they make a 200-kilometre migration to the south-eastern stretch of the park. Their distribution zone however outreaches the park and spreads to north-western Zimbabwe.

===

UPDATES and Background:

PROLOGUE: After over four months the Botswana governance came today with a lame explanation which represents more a fake news piece than a proper analysis result, but that narrative is now spread by the mainstream media like the BBC more in a propaganda-like fashion to bring the story to a close than a proper explanation. Elephants are co-evolutionarily adapted to the naturally occuring cyanobacteria and the observed sudden-death symptoms were more likely caused by a neurotoxic agent. The real questions that were asked now for so long therefore still remain unanswered.

Botswana: Mystery elephant deaths caused by cyanobacteria

By BBC - 21. September 2020

Two elephants lie beside a watering holeIMAGE COPYRIGHTREUTERS

Toxins made by microscopic algae in water caused the previously unexplained deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana, wildlife officials say.

Botswana is home to a third of Africa's declining elephant population.

The alarm was raised when elephant carcasses were spotted in the country's Okavango Delta between May and June.

Officials say a total of 330 elephants are now known to have died from ingesting cyanobacteria. Poaching has been ruled out as a cause of death.

Cyanobacteria are toxic bacteria which can occur naturally in standing water and sometimes grow into large blooms known as blue-green algae.

Scientists warn that climate change may be making these incidents - known as toxic blooms - more likely, because they favour warm water.

Warning: Some people may find an image below upsetting

The findings follow months of tests in specialist laboratories in South Africa, Canada, Zimbabwe and the US.

Many of the dead elephants were found near watering holes, but until now the wildlife authorities had doubted that the bacteria were to blame because the blooms appear on the edges of ponds and elephants tend to drink from the middle.

"Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are bacteria found in water," the Department of Wildlife and National Parks' Principal Veterinary Officer Mmadi Reuben told a press conference on Monday.

The deaths "stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of [water] pans", AFP quotes him as saying.

Reports in June noted that tusks had not been removed, meaning poaching was not seen as a likely explanation.

Anthrax poisoning has also been ruled out, according to senior wildlife department official Cyril Taolo.

But questions still remain about the deaths, Mr Reuben told reporters.

"We have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only. We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating."

Hundreds of carcasses were spotted with the help of aerial surveys earlier this year.

A composite photo shows dead elephants in Botswana's Okavango Delta in May and June 2020.IMAGE COPYRIGHTREUTERS

Dr Niall McCann, of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, previously told the BBC that local conservationists first alerted the government in early May, after they undertook a flight over the delta.

"They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight," he said. "To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was extraordinary."

Twenty-five elephants recently died in a group in neighbouring Zimbabwe. Test samples have been sent to the UK for analysis.

line

What is cyanobacteria?

Oscillatoria, genus cyanobacterium, blue-green algae, seen under a microscope.IMAGE COPYRIGHTDE AGOSTINI/GETTY IMAGES

  • Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, is found worldwide especially in calm, nutrient-rich waters
  • Some species of cyanobacteria produce toxins that affect animals and humans
  • People may be exposed to cyanobacterial toxins by drinking or bathing in contaminated water
  • Symptoms include skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, fever, sore throat, headache
  • Animals, birds, and fish can also be poisoned by high levels of toxin-producing cyanobacteria.

Source: WHO

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Botswana elephant deaths tests inconclusive but poisoning not ruled out

https://scitechdaily.com/images/Dead-Elephant-Botswana.jpg

By AFP - 14. August 2020

GABORONE, Botswana (AFP)—Botswana said initial tests to ascertain the cause of the deaths of hundreds of elephants in the famed Okavango Delta have been inconclusive but did not eliminate poisoning.

The landlocked southern African country has the world's largest elephant population, estimated to be about 130,000. Around 300 of them have been found dead since March.

The environmental resources ministry said the tests showed no presence of pesticides that would ordinarily be involved in poisoning.

"Results received so far do not eliminate poisoning, therefore environmental factors, including naturally occurring toxins, are still being investigated," the ministry said.

Authorities have so far ruled out poaching, as the tusks were found intact.

The government has so far established that 281 elephants died, although independent conservationists say more than 350 perished. 

The deaths were first flagged by a wildlife conservation charity, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), whose confidential report referring to the 356 dead elephants was leaked to the media early in July.

Several live elephants appeared weak, lethargic and emaciated, with some showing signs of disorientation, difficulty in walking or limping, EWB said.

Tests were being conducted at specialist labs in South Africa, Canada, Zimbabwe and the US.

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Okavango elephant deaths investigations continue as latest tests prove inconclusive

By YBW - 11. August 2020

AdobeStock_By ArtushFoto

The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism has ruled out agrochemicals as the cause of mysterious elephant deaths in the Seronga area since March.

A press release from the ministry says the toxicological analysis of nine pesticides and chemicals commonly implicated in wildlife poisoning have tested negative. It says the Encephalomyocarditis virus, an acute viral disease characterised by inflammation and the degeneration of skeletal and cardiac muscle and lesions of the central nervous system has also been eliminated as the cause of mortality. Based on clinical data and laboratory results received so far, infectious pathogens were also unlikely to be the cause of death, the release notes. It further says two suspected mineral elements and starvation have also been ruled out.

“The results received so far do not eliminate poisoning, therefore environmental factors, including naturally occurring toxins, are still being investigated,” it said.

“This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant,” National Park Rescue’s Dr Niall McCann told The Guardian newspaper. 

However, the release goes on to say the results received so far do not eliminate poisoning and environmental factors including naturally occurring toxins, which are still being investigated. While the ministry awaits more results, it has also confirmed no new deaths have been recorded. Meanwhile, the release says an extensive aerial survey of NG11, NG12 and NG13 has been completed while further statistical analysis is ongoing.

From May to July, the carcasses of hundreds of elephants were discovered in and around the Okavango panhandle. Most of the elephants,  believed to have crashed headfirst into the earth, were found near waterholes, indicating a sudden death. The elephants were observed to be emaciated, weak and could barely walk. Early in the investigations, authorities suspected the elephants were being poisoned in a Human-Wildlife Conflict attack. However, that was soon dismissed because no other species were dying.

According to experts, Botswana is home to around 130,000 elephants, the highest population in Africa. Out of that number, about 10,000 live in the Okavango Delta.

This is a developing story.

Reference: BOPA

===

Botswana Rules out Pesticides and Pathogens as Cause for Elephant Deaths

The investigation must continue!
By  - 07. August 2020 - Updated on 08. August 2020
  • Poisons could be behind the demise of about 300 pachyderms

  • Elephant carcasses indicate animals died sudden deaths

Tests done on samples that were taken from some of about 300 carcasses found in northwest Botswana and sent to laboratories in Zimbabwe and South Africa for examination proved inconclusive.

“The results received so far do not eliminate poisoning, therefore environmental factors, including naturally occurring toxins, are still being investigated,” Botswana’s environment ministry said in a statement on Friday.

There are about 135,000 elephants in Botswana and they form an important part of the tourism industry which accounts for a fifth of the economy. The positioning of the dead animals’ carcasses indicate they died sudden deaths.

===

Botswana is eager to push the "Natural Toxin" narrative via paid scribes:

Natural toxins likely killed hundreds of Botswana elephants: government

By Nyawira Mwangi - 02. August 2020 (AFP)

Natural toxins likely killed hundreds of Botswana elephants: GovtA dead elephant is seen in this undated handout image in Okavango Delta, Botswana May-June, 2020. (Handout/Reuters/-) Hundreds of elephants that died mysteriously in Botswana’s famed Okavango Delta probably succumbed to natural toxins, the wildlife department said Friday.

The landlocked southern African country has the world’s largest elephant population, estimated to be around 130,000. Around 300 of them have been found dying since March.

Authorities have so far ruled out anthrax, as well as poaching, as the tusks were found intact.

Preliminary tests conducted in various countries far have not been fully conclusive and more are being carried out, Wildlife and Parks Department boss Cyril Taolo told AFP in a phone interview.

“But based on some of the preliminary results that we have received, we are looking at naturally-occurring toxins as the potential cause,” he said.

“To date we have not estabished the conclusion as to what is the cause of the mortality”.

He explained that some bacteria can naturally produce poison, particularly in stagnant water.

Government has so far established that 281 elephants died, although independent conservationists say more than 350.

The deaths were first flagged by a wildlife conservation charity, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), whose confidential report referring to the 356 dead elephants was leaked to the media early in July.

EWB suspected elephants had been dying in the area for about three months, and mortality was not restricted to age or gender.

Several live elephants appeared weak, lethargic and emaciated, with some showing signs of disorientation, difficulty in walking or limping, EWB said.

Tests are being conducted at specialist labs in South Africa, Canada, Zimbabwe and the US.

===

PAID MAINSTREAM MEDIA SPIN:

Mysterious mass elephant deaths in Botswana possibly linked to toxin

By Brian Benza Reuters 31 July 2020

A combination photo shows dead elephants in Okavango Delta, Botswana May-June, 2020. PHOTOGRAPHS OBTAINED BY REUTERS/Handout via REUTERS

Preliminary tests to explain the reason for hundreds of mysterious elephant deaths in Botswana point to a naturally occurring toxin as a probable cause, a senior wildlife official told Reuters.

It was highly unlikely that an infectious disease was behind the shocking deaths of at least 281 elephants, added Cyril Taolo, acting director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Officials had been struggling to establish the cause of death more than two months after the first carcasses were spotted in the Okavango Panhandle region.

Initial investigations appeared to rule out common causes like poaching and anthrax.

“We have received more test results from other countries including the United States, and so far the results show that it’s highly unlikely that the cause could be an infectious pathogen,” Taolo said.

“Our main attention … is now on investigating broader environmental factors such as naturally produced toxins from bacteria that are found in the environment, such as water bodies.”

The government has sent samples to laboratories in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the United States for tests.

As of last week it had received results from bacterial detection and toxicology tests in Botswana, histopathology tests in South Africa, and bacterial detection and histopathology tests in Zimbabwe.

Taolo said toxicology results were expected from South Africa soon.

“It’s a game of elimination where we start testing the most common causes and then move on to the less common ones. We then have to verify and corroborate these results from different laboratory tests. We are hoping to provide a more concrete update tomorrow,” he said.

The elephant deaths have concerned some conservationists, who fear deaths could spiral out of control if a cause cannot be established quickly.

Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.

© 2020 Reuters

 

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Ministry briefs envoys on elephant deaths

By Ketshepile More - BOPA - 26. July 2020

(Gaborone) Members of the diplomatic corps in Botswana have recently been updated on elephant mortality in the Seronga area which has seen 281 of the species perishing.

Giving the briefing, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Dr Oduetse Koboto said from the first carcass discovered on the Namibian side, there had not been any more elephant deaths reported in that country. 

Most carcasses, he said, were found some 100 metres away from the natural water source adding that it was evident they died after visiting water pans. 

Additionally, Dr Koboto said, the carcasses depicted sudden death with no sign of struggle. 

He reiterated that poaching had been ruled out as all carcasses were found with tusks. 

The motive for poaching was ordinarily to remove tusks, he said.

Dr Koboto said no other animals such as zebras, lions and scavengers had been found dead in the area. 

The diplomats heard that investigations had been carried out with samples collected from old and fresh carcasses which were sent to national laboratory for bacterial tests. 

The carcasses tested negative for anthrax which then called for further examinations and tests, he said. 

He said samples were then sent to South Africa, Zimbabwe, US and UK for pathology and bacterial tests. 

The focus, he explained, was to determine if there was any bacteria prevalent or poisonous substances in the area and historic trends. 

Dr Koboto said the ministry had assembled a team of forensic investigators comprising Department of Wildlife and  National Parks, Botswana Police Services, Botswana Defence Force and intelligence officers. 

He said the criminal route would be taken if results pointed to a human cause for the elephant mortality. 

The results would also assist in determining if there was any virus in the region and allow authorities to define the protocols for dealing with such, Dr Koboto said. 

He said it would help the southern Africa region to look into management instruments to better combat animal diseases. 

On another matter, Dr Koboto said in 2018 Botswana experienced a spike in rhino poaching. 

He said to date 61 rhinos had been killed by poachers compared to 20 lost between 2010 and 2018. 

Dr Koboto said the high number recorded in 2018 prompted the department to change strategy including enhancing intelligence as well as dehorning rhinos to deter poachers. 

He said thus far nine poachers  had been arrested while 17 had been killed. 

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Ecology: The mystery of Botswana’s dead elephants

The death of nearly 400 elephants in Botswana is one of 2020’s big mysteries. Mark Read weighs in on the issue

By Mark Read (*) - 23. July 2020

Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER

Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER

The Botswana elephant debate is raging once more. Virus-like it emerges every few years and is associated with a great deal of huffing and puffing among lovers of the Southern African wilderness. Bellicose statements from one side about the need to let the bullets fly into tens of thousands of elephants are met with howls of outrage that such an action can even be considered. In past years, hostilities calm after a while and retreat, some would say, to lurk among the bottles of Tusker Lager in the bars of Maun and Selinda.

This time things are a bit different (isn’t that the case with most things these days?). The debate has been properly catalysed by the mysterious death of about 365 elephants in the northern part of the Okavango area. Why did they seemingly stop in their tracks and die? Poison, a catastrophic pathogen, starvation or some other unknown element? No doubt in time the truth will emerge. In the meantime, however, passions of Okavango lovers have been aroused once more. And so it should be. The African elephant is the talismanic figurehead of our continent — subtle, intelligent and empathetic. They are the primary reason why hordes of ecotourists come and fill the coffers of those countries fortunate to have thriving elephant populations.

The paradox is that countries such as SA and Botswana have become victims of their own conservation success. In many countries in Africa, relic populations of elephants are tragically dwindling to probable extinction. In Zimbabwe, SA and principally Botswana, burgeoning populations of elephants threaten their very own habitat. More than any animal except humans, elephants alter the world they live in. Sustainable elephant densities obviously differ from place to place. Arid areas generally support fewer animals than high-rainfall environments. The challenge is that as populations grow beyond the capacity of their environments’ ability to support them, these mega-herbivores start to simplify their habitat as they browse their preferred food to a point where it can be eradicated. Unfortunately, African elephants’ preferred food is often slow-growing trees.

A combination photo shows dead elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.. Picture: REUTERS/Handout

A combination photo shows dead elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Picture: REUTERS/Handout

The Okavango-Chobe system in Botswana, together with the Serengeti in Tanzania, is Africa’s most famous intact wilderness. The Serengeti boasts the greatest herd of plains game on the continent. The Okavango has its iconic elephant herds, which move seasonally through the vast mopane belt to arrive at reliable water sources in the north in the dry season. The inescapable fact is that there are far too many elephants in the Okavango and its surrounds. If the Botswana authorities wish to preserve the vegetation — in other words, the principal ecological environment as it has existed during historical times — action of some sort must be taken. The swamps, as the Okavango is affectionately known, was preserved by the Botswana authorities as a conservation area set aside to maintain its biodiversity. Elephants are simplifying that biodiversity.

However, those same animals are perhaps the main reason that high-end ecotourists flock to the Okavango and fill expensive lodges that provide vital foreign exchange for Botswana. One thing is certain, if a decision is taken to cull large numbers of elephants, as soon as it begins, that tourism will stop. Even the threat of that happening would be suicide for the Botswana tourism industry.

Tourism matters

It is 5 o’clock somewhere in northern Chief’s Island. Two couples share a comfortable Land Cruiser with a guide. Fine Cape wine in glass, they watch a breeding herd of elephants at a water lily-bedecked pool in the warmth of the late-afternoon sun. Baby elephants cavort with each other, disciplined now and then by watchful aunts. Noble creatures beyond the speaking of it. The guide murmurs all kinds of knowledge. No other vehicles about. This isn’t the Kenyan tourism model. It’s perhaps the perfect end to a sublime day and already return trips are being imagined. As they meander back to the lodge they comment on how many trees seem to have lost their bark, and notice areas where all the big trees are dead, those still standing are testimonials to a past era. Inevitably the question arises from behind the Land Cruiser driver — are there too many elephants? Most guides would answer that there are challenges at present, but fluctuations always happen in nature and ecological feedback loops ensure that corrections take place; breeding slows at high densities, and so on. The guides generally tell the gentle story. The industry depends on it.

Just imagine the discussions around the fire that night among the visitors from up north, were the guide to relay the opinion of an increasingly vociferous group of people that there is an excess of 100,000 elephants in the greater Okavango area. If that number of elephants are not removed now and the population maintained below 40,000 individual animals over the entirety of the range, the ecology would be fundamentally simplified. Visually, a near complete lack of big trees would be an aesthetic catastrophe.

Even more serious would be the lack of breeding and roosting sites for large species of birds such as vultures, eagles, smaller raptors, storks, herons and the like. Many small birds and all organisms that depend on mature woodland would also be critically affected. The ecosystem would adjust to the subtle interrelationship changes between all life forms, in ways too complex to easily compute. The Okavango will remain a wonderful place. Just altered.

A combination photo shows dead elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.. Picture: REUTERS/Handout

A combination photo shows dead elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.. Picture: REUTERS/Handout

Much like climate change, that ecological drift has already begun. One thing is for certain — if the big cull did take place the change would be much more radical, more immediate. Killing 100,000 elephants means euthanising about 100 a day for three years. A large herd every day. That is unthinkable in today’s world. It would be labelled a genocide by powerful animal rights groups. A killing field that would dominate the front pages of publications worldwide. All tourism would cease, quite rightly so. Who wants to go to a slaughterhouse? Hunters with tough constitutions would seek their prey, but they would ply their craft in an area awash with poachers who even now are increasing due to the paucity of ecotourism triggered by Covid-19. A vacuum is always filled. This vacuum would be filled by poachers. The Botswana wildlife authorities with the best will in the world and a sadly depleted fiscus would find it hard to compete. How long before cows and goats replaced the lechwe and buffalo?

Finding a solution

So what’s the answer to this seemingly impossible conundrum? Where does a reasonable and sustainable path lie? The International Union for Conservation of Nature and large international conservation NGOs may offer advice through good scientific practice, but ultimately it’s up to the government of Botswana and its people. Do they see the greatest herd of elephants in the world as a precious national asset? Are they willing to rapidly engage with neighbouring states such as Zimbabwe and Angola to create a system of transfrontier parks with clear and usable corridors linking large, properly protected wilderness areas? Are they prepared to grasp the nettle and pursue active animal management through controlled hunting and quiet culling? Is it time to gather a group of eminent and unbiased researchers and economists to do a rapid and thorough study (the results of which must be fully reported to primarily the people of Botswana and then disseminated to all parties globally)?

In summary, if we are to properly address the elephant in the room, conservationists and politicians must analyse how important elephants are to this continent. Botswana is the topic here, but it’s merely a part of a bigger story. Any continent needs large protected spaces through which clean rivers run unimpeded. Africa is so fortunate that it has a flagship species that can inhabit those lovely spaces and attract people, national and international, to come and gaze. It’s critical that citizens of Africa are involved, as they will have the tough decisions to make as their populations grow, about the enlargement or fragmentation of conserved areas and the defence against the attentions of illicit poachers. And the elephants within those areas? The sometimes uncomfortable fact is that elephants are finally merely a component of a functioning ecosystem and not its epicentre.

The same could be said for humankind. The idea that we are critical to a functioning planet has caused a lot of problems. I wonder who came up with that idea?

*Read is the chair of Everard Read and has many years’ worth of involvement in both international and local ecological endeavours

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What’s killing Botswana’s elephants? Here are the top theories.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/animals/2020/07/elephants-botswana/elephant-death-botswana-nationalgeographic_1581979.adapt.676.1.jpg

Hundreds of elephants have died from unknown causes over the past few months in Botswana. Photograph by Sergio Pitamitz, Nat Geo Image Collection

More than 280 elephants are dead and officials are still trying to unravel the cause.

By Dina Fine Maron - 14. July 2020

They walk in circles and appear dizzy before suddenly dropping dead, sometimes face-first. No one knows why. Over the past several months, hundreds of elephants have died in Botswana, some with these symptoms.

The bizarre behavior and sheer number of deaths suggest to experts that it’s unlikely that diseases known to afflict wild elephants, such as tuberculosis, are to blame. The elephants’ tusks aren’t missing, which rules out poaching for ivory. Yet the death toll keeps growing. Government officials say they’ve verified that 281 elephants have died since March 2020; conservation NGOs in the area say the death toll is even higher.

“From a population perspective this is not serious, even though many elephants have died,” says Markus Hofmeyr, a wildlife veterinarian and former head of veterinary services at Kruger National Park. “It is, however, important that there is a diagnosis made to make sure no foul play is at hand—that would be a problem for the population if it is not dealt with.”

Botswana, with an estimated 130,000 savanna elephants, is one of the species’ last strongholds in Africa, where ivory poaching has been responsible for reducing their numbers to roughly 350,000. The dying animals in Botswana lived in a roughly thousand-square-mile tract in a remote area northeast of the Okavango Delta, where an estimated 18,000 elephants, 16,000 people, and 18,000 cattle live.

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Ftse4.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DOIP.H8Fqg8TujZEYOax5dNktHAHaFL%26pid%3DApi&f=1    Okavango Flood Update - April 10, 2013

First carcasses were found not far from Seronga

https://hubersgoafrica.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/karte-botswana.jpeg?w=640

[Also in this map is the crazy Veterinary Cordon Fence by the European Union that killed off millions of wildlife species and blocked the natural migration - only to provide cheaper beef to Europeans.]

According to veterinarians and wildlife experts interviewed by National Geographic, as well as an examination of past elephant die-offs, possible causes include: ingestion of toxic bacteria in water, anthrax poisoning, poisoning by humans, viral infection from rodents, or a pathogenic microbe. Then, too, it could be some combination of these causes—especially if environmental factors have played a part, such as this year’s late heavy rainfall after years of drought.

The Botswana government, which is investigating the mysterious deaths, announced at a press conference on July 10 that it has preliminary results from laboratory tests in Zimbabwe but is waiting to share them with the public, pending conclusive answers.

“We expect additional results from one other lab in South Africa later this week,” Cyril Taolo, acting director of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks tells National Geographic. “Results from Canada and the U.S. will follow thereafter.”

Experts say that getting an accurate explanation requires sampling carcasses and the soil and water in their vicinity almost immediately after the elephants die. That’s a daunting challenge in this remote area, where an elephant’s body may not be found and analyzed for days or even longer. By then, the hot sun has helped degrade the body, likely erasing key evidence, and scavenging animals may eat organs before they can be recovered for examination.

Here’s a closer look at the possible causes and their significance:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/animals/2020/07/elephants-botswana/elephant-death-botswana-01643153.adapt.676.1.jpg

One possible explanation for the elephant deaths is anthrax poisoning. The infectious disease, caused by a bacterium found in the soil, has killed elephants in Botswana in the past. Photograph by Sylvain Cordier, Nature Picture Library

Starvation or dehydration

It’s very unlikely that the animals succumbed to starvation or dehydration because the die-offs started when the waterholes were still full of rainwater, and the area they live in has an abundance of woodlands for browsing, says Erik Verreynne, a wildlife veterinarian and consultant in Botswana who directs a cattle herding program where the elephant deaths have occurred. “The vegetation is lush and green after a much better rainfall year as compared to the drought of the previous years,” he says.

Toxins in the water

Cyanobacteria—blue-green algae—can be deadly, and many of the elephants have been found near waterholes or ponds. But elephants generally drink from the middle of water bodies—not the edges where cyanobacteria tend to accumulate. Moreover, with time rainfall typically washes out the bacteria, and the elephants have been dying in this region over several months. Cyanobacteria likely caused prehistoric mass elephant die-offs. It’s possible that the elephants in Botswana were sickened by something else and, perhaps feverish, craved water and died soon after drinking or trying to drink. The only way to confirm or rule out cyanobacteria is to test the waters, which Taolo says is underway.

Anthrax

Sudden deaths of elephants after showing neurological symptoms—such as walking in circles, as reported by eyewitnesses—suggests anthrax poisoning is a likely possibility. The bacterium that causes this infectious disease occurs naturally in soil and has been known to affect domestic and wild animals around the world. Elephants could become infected when they breathe in or ingest contaminated soil, plants, or even water.

But Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks says it has eliminated anthrax as a possibility, though details about how remain scarce. South African wildlife veterinarian Michael Kock, who worked on elephant anthrax cases in this region for the Botswana government in the 1990s, says scientists would need to take blood samples from the animals ideally within hours after they died. Under the microscope, anthrax microbes have a distinctive shape, Kock says, but when a body begins to decay, other bacteria invade, which makes identification extremely challenging.

If anthrax is killing the elephants, it would be a difficult problem to stamp out, he adds. To prevent the spores from spreading, it’s necessary to burn the carcasses as soon as possible—requiring tons of wood. Given that the deaths have been occurring in such a remote region, with few roads, getting to all the carcasses would be an additional challenge. (The Department of Wildlife and National Parks has already burned some carcasses close to communities, Taolo says.) Although a vaccine against anthrax is given routinely to livestock such as cattle, administering it to 18,000 elephants is unrealistic, Kock says.

Poisoning

Could local people who live close to elephants have poisoned them in retaliation for eating their crops, perhaps by lacing waterholes or vegetables such as cabbages? If poison—typically cyanide—was used, the deaths would likely be clustered in a specific area, as seen here. But cyanide remains in carcasses long after death, and there’s no evidence that animals eating the bodies of the dead elephants—hyenas, jackals, vultures—are dying as well.

Other poisons, such as sodium fluoroacetate, which is sometimes used as a pesticide and breaks down more quickly, could be suspects. To verify this, Kock says, scientists would need to examine the victims’ liver, which acts as the body’s natural toxin filter, and stomach, where the potentially contaminated food might be testable.

If poisonings are to blame, authorities would likely want to work with communities that have suffered because elephants have damaged their land and crops. How best to manage encounters between humans and elephants is politically contentious. Last year, President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a five-year ban on hunting elephants, citing the need to reduce dangerous encounters.

Encephalomyocarditis virus

Sudden death preceded by neurological symptoms would be consistent with this rodent-borne virus, which causes heart failure. The virus is excreted in the feces of rodents; elephants are at risk of eating contaminated grass. “Most herbivores eat the blades of grass from above, but elephants kick out and consume the whole tuft—roots, rodent feces, and all,” says South African wildlife veterinarian Roy Bengis. More than 60 elephants in Kruger National Park died this way during the early 1990s. It happened after the first wet year following a severe drought—conditions similar to those recently in Botswana—when the rodent population around South Africa’s famous park exploded, says Bengis, who was head of state veterinary services at Kruger at the time.

There have been no reports of unusually large numbers of rodents in the areas where Botswana’s elephants have died, however. According to Kock, froth in the elephants’ airways and specific signs of heart damage would point to this cause. It’s also possible to detect the virus itself during a necropsy. Encephalomyocarditis hasn’t been a priority for treatment or vaccine development, so if it’s to blame, there’s little recourse to counter it.

https://storage.googleapis.com/media.mwcradio.com/mimesis/2020-07/09/2020-07-09T154400Z_1_LYNXMPEG681CH_RTROPTP_3_BOTSWANA-ELEPHANTS.JPG

Killer microbes

Bacteria and viruses previously not deadly for specific species can evolve to become killers—as was the case with the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which likely originated in bats and so far has killed more than 500,000 people worldwide. Many coronaviruses occur in animals, but there’s no evidence that COVID-19 is behind these elephant deaths, or that it even occurs in elephants, Kock says.

Sudden or extreme changes in weather, the landscape, or microbes’ hosts can trigger changes in bacteria or viruses, making them deadly. In 2015, some 200,000 saiga antelopes died from blood poisoning in Kazakhstan after extreme heat and humidity caused a common Pasteurella bacteriumwhich under normal conditions occurs harmlessly in the animals—to multiply and fatally overwhelm them. Something similar could be happening with the elephants, veterinarians say. But temperatures in the region haven’t been exceptionally high lately, and the deaths are still relatively confined, making this theory less likely.

“We have to keep an open mind,” veterinarian Verreynne says. He notes that another possibility could be viruses transmitted by arthropods such as ticks or mosquitoes that have never been diagnosed in wild elephants before. Perhaps the area’s recent abundant rains, after years of drought, set the stage for an outbreak, he says.

Multiple factors, including climate change, could contribute to such die-offs. “Disease is often an indicator of an underlying problem,” Verreynne says, adding that untangling what’s killing Botswana’s elephants “may assist in assessing the health of the ecosystem."

Wildlife Watch is an investigative reporting project between National Geographic Society and National Geographic Partners focusing on wildlife crime and exploitation. Read more Wildlife Watch stories here, and learn more about National Geographic Society’s nonprofit mission at nationalgeographic.org. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to

Author:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/contributors/rights-exempt/dina-maron-1018.adapt.352.1.jpg

Fine Maron is senior National Geographic Society wildlife trade investigative reporter, covering wildlife crime and exploitation for Wildlife Watch. Follow Dina https://twitter.com/dina_maron

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Hundreds of elephants found dead in Botswana

•Jul 10, 2020

TRT World Now

Spokesperson for the Elephant Protection Initiative Barnaby Phillips reacts to the death of hundreds elephants under bizarre circumstances in Botswana.

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Elephant Deaths in Botswana

By  - 07. July 2020

Reports of deaths of elephants north of the Okavango Delta in Botswana is cause for much concern. The first carcass was found on the 11th May, 2020 near Seronga and the death toll has now risen to over 400. Both sexes and all ages are dying. Reports indicate that the animals can die suddenly but may also show signs of neurological damage such as lethargy, disorientation and circling prior to death. 70% of cases have occurred in close proximity to water.

As of now these deaths have been confined to northern Botswana with no deaths having been reported in Zimbabwe. However, the Delta is within the KAZA Trans-frontier Park spanning five countries, including Zimbabwe, and this has sparked concern in the Friends of Hwange community.

There are currently four avenues of investigation:

  1. Anthrax – Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. This can lie dormant in the soil in the form of spores for many years.  Animals become infected by inhaling or ingesting spores in contaminated soil, plants or water. Diagnosis of an anthrax carcass is relatively simple and has been potentially ruled out as the cause of death in these cases.
  2. Malicious poisoning – Poisoning of elephants by poachers using cyanide carbamate, organo-phosphates or other poisons has happened in the past. This has also been ruled out because the carcasses have been found with their ivory intact.  There have been no deaths amongst vultures or other scavengers.
  3. Naturally occurring poisons – Blue-green algae or cyanobacteria produce neurotoxins and liver toxins that are poisonous to nearly all livestock, wildlife and humans. There seems to be a gene that enables cynobacteria to produce or elicit production of toxic secondary metabolites known as cyano-toxins.

Blue-green algaes tend to accumulate on warm, stagnant bodies of water. Wind blows the algae to the downwind sides of the water bodies and animals such as impala and rhino which approach water from this side tend to be more susceptible to the poisoning than are elephants that go into the middle of the water. Numerous other animals would be represented in the deaths if cyanobacteria were this the cause.

4. Viral or bacterial infections

a. Encephalomyocarditis virus – In 1994 there was an outbreak of this virus resulting in the deaths of 64 elephants in Kruger National Park. The virus was isolated from the heart muscle of three fresh carcasses. Antibodies to this virus were found in blood samples dating from 1987. High levels of viral antibody were found in a host of rodent species, especially the multi-mammate mouse indicating that the virus could cross between these two species.

b. Bacterial hepatitis -In the past we have had a few cases of per-acute bacterial hepatitis associated with seasonal pans. These cases tend to taper off with the drying up of these pans.

It would seem likely that the deaths are being caused by either viral or bacterial infections. The collection and distribution of samples from the Botswana elephant carcasses has been hampered by the corona virus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. However, samples have now been sent to regional and international laboratories and results are expected in the near future. An update will be posted when definitive information emerges. 

 

(*)  Thanks to Dr Rob Rees, for his insight into this issue. Rob is a private veterinarian working in Zimbabwe and the Kaza region. WE NEED THE ELEPHANTS ALIVE !

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350 elephants drop dead in Botswana, some walking in circles before doing face-plants

By 07. 

No one knows why.

Some of the elephants were seen walking in circles before collapsing face-first into the earth in Botswana.

Some of the elephants were seen walking in circles before collapsing face-first into the earth in Botswana. (Image: © Elephants Without Borders)

More than 350 elephants in Botswana have mysteriously died since May, in a phenomenon that some scientists have dubbed a "conservation disaster," and one that has evaded explanation.

The elephants — which died in the swampy Okavango Delta — still had their tusks intact, suggesting that ivory poaching hadn't driven the deaths, The Guardian reported. A flight over the delta in May by researchers with Elephants Without Borders, a wildlife conservation organization, first spotted 169 carcasses; that number jumped to 356 in June, when the conservationists took another flight over the area.

Botswana's Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation, and Tourism has verified 275 of those elephant carcasses, according to a statement from the African Wildlife Foundation.

The mass die-off could be explained by either a poison or some as-yet unknown pathogen, according to The Guardian. Already, officials have ruled out anthrax,  the carcasses tested negative for that bacterium, said Scott Schlossberg, a research consultant for Elephants Without Borders. 

The bacterium that causes anthrax disease, called Bacillus anthracis, occurs naturally in soils, where it can stay inactive as spores for decades, scientists reported in 2019 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Grazing animals can ingest anthrax-tainted soils along with plants or while drinking from watering holes. 

This isn't the first elephant die-off in the region; more than 100 elephants died over a two-month period in the fall of 2019 in Botswana's Chobe National Park, primarily driven by drought. Some of those deaths may have been due to anthrax, as the elephants would have ingested soil (possibly contaminated with anthrax spores) while grazing around dried-up watering holes and across wilted grasslands, the AFP reported at the time.

Some of the elephants were seen walking in circles before collapsing face-first into the earth in Botswana. Though hundreds of elephants have died in a short span of time, they seem to be dying individually and not in groups. (Image credit: Elephants Without Borders)

What's behind the recent deaths?

Local sources told The Guardian that 70% of the elephant carcasses — which span all ages — have been found around watering holes, so perhaps the culprit is somehow linked to watering holes, The Guardian reported. Also, locals have reported that some of the elephants were walking in circles before their deaths, suggesting a neurological issue. 

"If you look at the carcasses, some of them have fallen straight on their face, indicating they died very quickly," Niall McCann, director of conservation at the U.K.-based conservation organization National Park Rescue, told The Guardian. "Others are obviously dying more slowly, like the ones that are wandering around. So it's very difficult to say what this toxin is."

Another idea, though unlikely, is cyanide, which poachers often use to poison elephants. However, in the case of cyanide poisoning, the elephants are generally clustered in one area where the poison was deployed, and other animals scavenging on their carcasses also show up dead, The New York Times reported. This hasn't been the case in Botswana.

Rather than foul play, the elephants might have died from a natural culprit, said Chris Thouless, the head of research at the conservation organization Save the Elephants, which is based in Kenya, The New York Times reported. Thouless suggested the viral disease encephalomyocarditis, which is transmitted by rodents, could be to blame. The disease causes neurological impairment and is known to have killed 60 elephants in South Africa's Kruger National Park in the mid-1990s, according to a report published in 1995 in the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research.

He added that Botswana recently emerged from a drought, which can leave elephants stressed and more susceptible to diseases. 

Conservation disaster?

Botswana supports a population of about 130,000 elephants, more than in any other country in Africa, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. The delta where these carcasses were found is home to about 15,000 of those elephants, according to The Guardian. 

The loss of hundreds of elephants (a number that could climb if the culprit isn't discovered and addressed soon) may impact the country's ecotourism, which relies on elephants and other wildlife, and contributes 10% to 12% of Botswana's GDP, The Guardian reported. 

"You see elephants as assets of the country. They are the diamonds wandering around the Okavango delta," said McCann, as reported by The Guardian. "It's a conservation disaster — it speaks of a country that is failing to protect its most valuable resource."

Thouless disagrees with the idea that these deaths represent a "conservation disaster," pointing to the fact that the deaths represent such a small percentage of the delta's total population. 

However, that number could climb if the cause isn't determined and mitigated. As for whether or not the mortality is continuing, the last time we flew over the area in mid-June, we were still finding very fresh carcasses from elephants that had died a few days to a few weeks previously," Schlossberg told Live Science. "So, the mortality appears to have been continuing into June. We would not be surprised if elephants were still dying, but we would need to do another survey to confirm this."

Some of the elephants were seen walking in circles before collapsing face-first into the earth in Botswana. (Image credit: Elephants Without Borders)

Slow response?

Experts contacted by The Guardian were concerned by how slowly the official investigation of the deaths is proceeding. The Botswana government has yet to get, or release, results from lab tests on the carcasses and the surrounding environment. 

Related: Incredible photos capture last glimpse of long-tusked 'elephant queen'

"Toxicological tests of elephant remains, water and soil in the areas where the remains have been found are currently [being] undertaken by the National Veterinary Laboratory," Cyril Taolo, the acting director of Botswana's Department of Wildlife and National Parks, told Live Science in an email.

Taolo added, "We are not in a position [to] divulge details of the investigation that is ongoing and we do not wish to speculate on the cause of the mortalities."

Although some conservationists have suggested the government is not taking these deaths seriously, Taolo said otherwise. The die-off is "taken with all the due seriousness that it deserves. That is why resources have been expended to establish the extent of the mortalities and the cause."

Author:

Originally published on Live Science.

===

356 Elephants Died Suddenly. The Cause Is a Mystery.

Some conservationists say the recent die-off in Botswana could be natural, but others expressed more concern.

Credit...Via Reuters

By Rachel Nuwer - 06. 

On May 25, conservationists were flying over Botswana’s Okavango Panhandle when they counted something disturbing: 169 dead elephants. A second flight in June revealed more carcasses, bringing the total to 356. Some of the animals appeared to have died suddenly, collapsing chest-first while walking or running. No tusks were removed, suggesting that poaching for ivory may not be to blame.

But experts are left with few clues as to whether the cause is something sinister, such as poisonings, or a naturally occurring disease from which the area’s elephants will bounce back.

“As elephant populations grow, it is more likely that you will get mass die-offs, probably on a bigger scale than this,” said Chris Thouless, the head of research at Save the Elephants, a Kenya-based conservation organization. “Death is no fun, but it comes to all living things.”

But other conservationists expressed more concern.

“In Botswana, there is a huge crisis for elephants unfolding,” said Mark Hiley, the director of rescue operations at National Park Rescue, a nonprofit organization based in Britain that combats poaching in Africa. “The most important thing now is for an independent team to visit the area — sample multiple carcasses, the soil and waterways — and identify what is causing the deaths.”

Researchers from Elephants Without Borders, the conservation group in Botswana that conducted the flights documenting the problem, observed some live elephants that appeared to be disoriented, including one that was walking in circles. Others were dragging their hind legs, as though paralyzed, and still others appeared lethargic and emaciated. Males and females, young and old, all seem equally affected.

Botswana is home to around 130,000 savanna elephants, or about one-third of the world’s remaining population. Although there are some signs that elephant and rhino poaching may be picking up there, many conservationists still consider the country a critical safe haven for elephants.

In a report submitted to government officials, Elephants Without Borders estimated that the spate of mysterious deaths began at least as far back as March. The total number of dead elephants almost certainly exceeds 356, the authors write, because their flights did not cover the entire affected area.

Some conservationists say the country’s government is not taking the deaths seriously enough. Officials collected samples from dead elephants for testing in May, but they have not yet released results.

“This started months ago, and by now, the government should be able to tell everyone clearly what this is,” Mr. Hiley said. “There are plenty of reputable laboratories that could have come up with a result by now.”

The delays in testing could “literally be killing elephants,” Mr. Hiley added.

Dr. Mmadi Reuben, the principal veterinary officer at Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, said the government is taking the deaths seriously and responded “swiftly, adequately and responsibly — as soon as we received this information.”

He said that some testing has ruled out common causes like anthrax, which is caused by bacteria that occur naturally in soil. He and his colleagues are now working with labs in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Canada to perform further testing. “It’s not going to be a one-off thing where we say, ‘We’ve sent out samples, now we’re done,’” Dr. Reuben said. “It’s an ongoing dialogue with different labs.”

There is still no evidence that the deaths are foul play by humans, he added.

Cyanide, which poachers sometimes use to poison elephants, seems unlikely, because carcasses tend to be clumped together near where the poison was deployed. It also tends to kill other animals, but no other species seem to be affected in this case. However, it’s possible that other poisons could be used against elephants, and Mr. Hiley says some of them can dissipate quickly.

Covid-19, he added, is unlikely, because the disease has yet to infect people in Okavango’s remote communities. There is also no evidence yet that elephants can contract the virus.

Dr. Thouless suspects that a naturally occurring disease is the most likely culprit. One leading candidate is encephalomyocarditis, a viral infection that can be transmitted by rodents, which can cause neurological symptoms. It killed around 60 elephants in South Africa’s Kruger National Park in the mid-1990s. Botswana also recently emerged from a drought, which could have left some elephants stressed and more vulnerable to disease, Dr. Thouless said.

At this point, he continued, the deaths do not constitute a conservation crisis, because the numbers documented so far represent a small percentage of the 15,000 to 20,000 elephants that live in the Okavango Panhandle. “This is distressing, but it’s currently trivial in population terms,” he said.

Past examples also show that when conditions are favorable, elephants can quickly rebound. For example, in 1970 and 1971, a drought in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya killed an estimated 5,900 of the park’s 35,000 elephants. By 1973, the population was back to 35,000.

“There’s a limit to how much interfering with nature is worth doing,” Dr. Thouless said. “You can go to an enormous amount of effort without actually achieving anything different in conservation terms.”

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Gravitas: Mysterious elephant deaths in Botswana

•Jul 3, 2020

WION

Gravitas: Mysterious elephant deaths in Botswana More than 400 elephants have died in Botswana in the last two months. It is one of the biggest disasters to impact elephants in this century. The cause of death remains a mystery. WION's Palki Sharma gets you a report.

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Botswana investigating mystery deaths of at least 275 elephants

By News Desk - Reuters - Gaborone, Botswana   /   Fri, July 3, 2020   / 

Botswana investigating mystery deaths of at least 275 elephants

A dead elephant is seen in this undated handout image in Okavango Delta, Botswana May-June, 2020. (Handout/Reuters/-)

Botswana is investigating a growing number of unexplained deaths of elephants, having confirmed 275 had died, up from 154 two weeks ago, the government said on Thursday.

The dead elephants were first spotted months ago in the Okavango Panhandle region, and the 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.

"Three laboratories in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Canada have been identified to process the samples taken from the dead elephants," the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism said in a statement.

In a report prepared for the government and seen by Reuters, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), a conservation organization, said that its aerial surveys showed that elephants of all ages appeared to be dying. The group counted 169 dead elephants on May 25, and another 187 on June 14, according to the report.

The directors of EWB did not immediately respond to phone calls or text messages seeking comment on the report.

"Several live elephants that we observed appeared to be weak, lethargic and emaciated. Some elephants appeared disorientated, had difficulty walking, showed signs of partial paralysis or a limp," the report said.

"One elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although being encouraged by other herd members."

The report said urgent action was needed to establish if the deaths were caused by disease or poisoning.

Africa's overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent's elephants, has seen numbers grow to 130,000 from 80,000 in the late 1990s.

However, they are seen as a nuisance by some farmers, whose crops have been destroyed.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a five-year ban on big game hunting in May last year but the hunting season failed to take off in April as global travel restrictions meant hunters from many coronavirus-hit countries could not enter Botswana.

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Botswana reports mysterious deaths of hundreds of elephants

•Jul 3, 2020

Al Jazeera English

An investigation has begun into the mysterious deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana. Nearly 300 carcasses were discovered near Seronga in the Okavango Delta over the past few months. But as Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis reports, it is believed the number of dead elephants could be much higher.

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Hundreds of Elephants Have Died in Botswana, And We Don't Know Why

By TESSA KOUMOUNDOUROS - 02. JULY 2020

main article image

African elephants in Botswana. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Image News)

Disturbing reports of a mass elephant die-off have emerged from Botswana over the last two months, with more than 350 elephant carcasses spotted since May.

Some of the elephants were found face down, suggesting a sudden collapse. Most of their bodies were located around water sources in the northern parts of the Okavango Delta, a protected area for elephants and a study site called NG11. No similar deaths have been reported in nearby Namibia.

Botswana has the world's largest elephant (Loxodonta africana) population, with more than 135,000 individuals. But worldwide these majestic animals are in decline

While poachers are known to use cyanide to poison elephants in Zimbabwe, this has been deemed unlikely in this particular case, because the elephants remained intact with their full tusks, and scavengers like hyenas, lions and vultures have not been found dead after eating the carcasses.

Last year over 100 Botswanan elephants died from a suspected anthrax outbreak, and some may have succumbed to drought conditions. But the government of Botswana believes it's not anthrax in this case.

The Guardian's Phoebe Weston reported local witnesses saw some elephants walking around in circles. This behaviour suggests whatever is happening is impacting these animals neurologically.

"We have sent [samples] off for testing and we are expecting the results over the next couple of weeks or so," Cyril Taolo, the acting director of Botswana's department of wildlife and national parks, told Weston, attributing the delay in getting lab tests to COVID-19 restrictions.

Ecologist and LionAid director Pieter Kat and other conservationists have expressed concerns about how long these results are taking.

"Months after the initial carcasses were discovered, there is still no answer as to why that many elephants are dead," Kat wrote in a blog post, criticising Botswana's government for being slow to protect the animals that are vitally important to the country's tourism - its second largest industry.

The sudden nature of at least some of the elephants' deaths has him concerned poison may be involved, despite the lack of casualties in other species.

Until recently Botswana had been one of the safest countries for these vulnerable animals, but in 2019 scientists reported a surge in elephant poaching. Last year Botswana's government lifted a ban on elephant hunting, citing increasing human-elephant conflict as the reason.

"This is totally unprecedented in terms of numbers of elephants dying in a single event unrelated to drought," conservation biologist Niall McCann, director of National Park Rescue, told the BBC, explaining disease has yet to be ruled out as a cause.

"Yes, it is a conservation disaster - but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis."

We need answers not just for the sake of the other elephants, but to ensure we're protected, too.

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Botswana: Lab tests to solve mystery of hundreds of dead elephants

By BBC - 02. July 2020

https://d2c7ipcroan06u.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/botswana-elephant-dead-e1594017142886.jpg

Botswana is investigating "completely unprecedented" deaths of hundreds of elephants since May.

The government said three laboratories in Canada, South Africa and Zimbabwe would be asked to "process the samples taken from the dead elephants".

More than 350 elephant carcasses have been spotted in Botswana's Okavango Delta in the past two months.

No-one knows why the animals are dying in Botswana - home to a third of Africa's declining elephant population.

In a report prepared for the government, conservation organisation Elephants Without Borders (EWB) said its aerial surveys showed that elephants of all ages appeared to be dying, according to Reuters.

Dr Niall McCann, of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, earlier this week told the BBC that local conservationists first alerted the government in early May, after they undertook a flight over the delta.

"They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight," he said. "To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was extraordinary.

"A month later, further investigations identified many more carcasses, bringing the total to over 350."

"This is totally unprecedented in terms of numbers of elephants dying in a single event unrelated to drought," he added.

"It is only elephants that are dying and nothing else," Dr McCann said. "If it was cyanide used by poachers, you would expect to see other deaths."Back in May, Botswana's government ruled out poaching as a reason - noting the tusks had not been removed, according to Phys.org.

Dr McCann has also tentatively ruled out natural anthrax poisoning, which killed at least 100 elephants in Botswana last year.

But they have been unable to rule out either poisoning or disease. The way the animals appear to be dying - many dropping on their faces - and sightings of other elephants walking in circles points to something potentially attacking their neurological systems, Dr McCann said.

"Yes, it is a conservation disaster - but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis," he said.Either way, without knowing the source, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of a disease crossing into the human population - especially if the cause is in either the water sources or the soil. Dr McCann points to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is believed to have started in animals.

There are other things which point to something other than poaching.

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Calls for swift action as hundreds of elephants die in Botswana’s Okavango Delta

By - 02. July 2020

  • As many as 400 elephants have died in Botswana’s Okavango Delta since March, wildlife experts say.
  • Government authorities say poaching, poison and anthrax have been ruled out as the causes of death.
  • Conservationists have questioned the government’s handling of the mass deaths and rejection of assistance to test and investigate.
  • Botswana has the largest elephant population of any country, with the resultant rise in human-animal conflicts leading the government to rescind some protections for the animals.

https://imgs.mongabay.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2019/03/04222619/Botswana-Elephants-Linyanti-Drinking-Herd.jpg

Nearly 400 elephants have died in Botswana’s Okavango Delta since March, in what wildlife experts say is one of the largest elephant mortality events ever recorded. Conservationists have criticized the government’s handling of the matter and are urging them to speed up investigations.

Botwsana’s environment ministry registered the first of these unexplained elephant deaths in the Okavango in March, but the discovery of carcasses has accelerated since May.

Many of the dead elephants have been found near natural watering holes, while some have been found on trails. Some of the animals were found collapsed on their chests, suggesting their death had been fast and sudden.

The authorities said at the start of June that they were investigating just over 100 elephant deaths. Media reports said poaching, poisoning and anthrax had been ruled out as possible causes by the authorities.

Anthrax occurs naturally in the ground in parts of Botswana and has been known to kill wildlife in large numbers; wildlife disease experts have told Mongabay that this could only be ruled out as a cause by laboratory tests. The government said it was sending samples from the carcasses to South Africa for further testing, according to local media reports. However, officials said the process could be delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But international and local wildlife groups have criticized the government’s handling of the investigation. They say private surveys carried out in mid-June by conservationists, the results of which Mongabay has seen — show that almost 400 elephants have died.

They also say authorities have ignored offers to help with testing and investigation.

“There is evidence that suggests the real number of dead elephants is 400 so far,” Mark Hiley, operations director at the conservation group National Park Rescue, told Mongabay. “This is one of the biggest elephant mortality events of its kind, certainly this century.

“What needs to be done in a situation like this is to immediately take samples for testing. The government has bungled [taking these] urgently needed samples and failed to send them to a qualified lab for months.”

Hiley and others say samples were not quickly sent to labs for analysis as the government claims, delaying efforts to understand what is taking place in the Okavango.

“There is an urgent need to send in a professional, impartial team, with the proper resources and experience to carry out a full investigation,” Hiley added. “Offers have been made [by conservationists] but the government has failed to respond.”

Elephant carcass in the Okavango Delta.

Elephant carcass in the Okavango Delta.

There are more elephants in Botswana than in any other country. Measures to protect large wildlife, including hunting bans and “shoot-to-kill” policies to deter poachers, have seen the population grow from 80,000 in the late 1990s to an estimated 135,000 today.

But conservationists have raised the alarm over a rise in poaching since Mokgweetsi Masisi became president two years ago.

Having promised to reduce the number of elephants in the country amid rising human-wildlife conflicts as the human population grows, Masisi last year lifted a ban on hunting elephants. The ban had been introduced five years previously by his predecessor, Ian Khama.

Aerial surveys found a nearly six-fold rise in elephant poaching in the north of the country between 2014 and 2018. About 385 elephants were poached from 2017 to early October 2018, and 156 for the whole of 2018, including 90 identified in a single two-month period between July and September in a survey carried out with representatives of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Government officials later disputed the findings.

“Given the high volume of professional poaching in the Okavango area since the COVID-19 lockdowns began, poison remains a likely candidate,” Hiley said.

Poachers often lay poison traps to kill wildlife and remove what they want from the carcasses afterward. Local activists said they had found the remnants of an improvised camp near to where some elephants had died.

But no evidence of removal of dead elephants’ tusks has been reported.

“There is a worrying lack of urgency about this situation,” Mary Rice of the U.K.-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) told Mongabay. “This is symptomatic of the change in philosophy of this new regime and the U-turn which has been seen in the country with regard to the protection of key species.”

Government officials did not respond when contacted by Mongabay about their investigation into the elephant deaths.

There is an urgent need for comprehensive testing and investigation, Hiley said.

Elephant carcass, Okavango Delta
Hundreds of elephants have died in Botswana’s Okavango Delta; the cause is yet to be determined.

“Horrific scenes were reported to me of dying elephants running around in circles, suggesting something — potentially neurotoxins — impacting brain function. Some elephants reportedly had their rear quarters paralyzed,” he said.

“It is possible that the disaster has implications for people living in and around the Okavango Delta region, but until a proper team is sent in [to collect and test samples], this cannot be known,” he said.

“If it’s poison, something can be done about it, but if it’s a new disease it could be worse, especially as elephants can travel such huge distances. This is why it is so important to do tests as quickly as possible.”

One expert on disease among African wildlife, who spoke to Mongabay on condition of anonymity, said they had “never seen any elephant mortality on this scale before.” But they urged against jumping to any conclusions until advanced tests had been done.

“Theoretically, anthrax could be responsible,” the expert said. “It is also possible that a pathogen has emerged and is virulent in the high-density elephant population in that area.

“Or it could be something like the mass deaths of the saiga antelopes [in Kazakhstan in 2015] which turned out in the end to be down to a not uncommon pathogen.

“The only way to find out is to do proper tests.”


Banner image: A herd of elephants drinks at the Linyanti River in northern Botswana. Image by Roger Borgelid

===

Elephant Mystery Deepens: Botswana Study Shows Sudden Deaths

By  - 02. July
  • Elephants Without Borders urges cooperation with Botswana

  • Elephants seen to be emaciated, weak, walking in circles

The mystery of unexplained elephant deaths in northwest Botswana deepened, with a study of the carcasses of hundreds of the animals indicating a rapid demise.

Since early May, 356 elephants have been found dead in the Okavango Panhandle, Elephants Without Borders said in a report submitted to the Botswana government. Poaching has been ruled out as their ivory tusks have been left intact.

“Many carcasses were near natural waterholes,” according to the non-profit group, which conducted an aerial survey by helicopter. “Elephant carcasses also occurred along trails and died in a sternal position on their chests, suggesting a fast and sudden death.”

BOTSWANA-WILDLIFE-DROUGHT

Elephants walk in a channel of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Photographer: MONIRUL BHUIYAN/AFP via Getty Images

With about 135,000 elephants, Botswana has the world’s biggest population of the animals. Still, they have become a political issue, with President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifting a hunting ban and saying more needed to be done to stop the animals from damaging crops and occasionally trampling villagers.

That caused a global backlash from conservation organizations, including threats of travel boycotts. Tourism accounts for a fifth of Botswana’s gross domestic product.

Elephants Without Borders said its attempts to work with the government have been rebuffed. The organization confirmed the report but officials weren’t immediately available to comment.

“We reiterate our numerous efforts to support the Department of Wildlife and National Parks to address this escalating and concerning mass elephant mortality,” it said in the document. “Swift action and disclosure are needed to avert a potential public relations fiasco.”

Not Poison

The acting director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Cyril Taolo, and the regional wildlife director in the area, Dimakatso Ntshebe, didn’t answer calls made to their mobile phones.

“Three laboratories in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Canada have been identified to process the samples taken from the dead elephants,” Botswana’s environment ministry said in a statement.

The carcasses didn’t show signs of poisoning as no dead vultures and other scavengers were seen nearby, the group said. The 97-page report contained photos of 187 elephant carcasses.

Elephants Without Borders also recorded a number of live elephants that “appeared to be weak, lethargic and emaciated,” it said. “Some elephants appeared disorientated, had difficulty walking, showed signs of partial paralysis or a limp in their legs. One elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although being encouraged by other herd members.”

(Adds environment ministry comment in second last paragraph)

===

Hundreds of elephants dead in mysterious mass die-off

Botswana’s government is yet to test the remains of the dead animals in what has been described as a ‘conservation disaster’

By  - 01.

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Aerial images of some of the elephant carcasses seen in the Okavango Delta

More than 350 elephants have died in northern Botswana in a mysterious mass die-off described by scientists as a “conservation disaster”.

A cluster of elephant deaths was first reported in the Okavango Delta in early May, with 169 individuals dead by the end of the month. By mid June, the number had more than doubled, with 70% of the deaths clustered around waterholes, according to local sources who wish to remain anonymous.

“This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant,” said Dr Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue.

The Botswana government has not yet tested samples so there is no information on what is causing the deaths or whether they could pose a risk to human health. The two main possibilities are poisoning or an unknown pathogen. Anthrax – initially considered the most likely cause – has been ruled out.

McCann said: “When we’ve got a mass die-off of elephants near human habitation at a time when wildlife disease is very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it seems extraordinary that the government has not sent the samples to a reputable lab.”

Local witnesses say some elephants were seen walking around in circles, which is an indication of neurological impairment. “If you look at the carcasses, some of them have fallen straight on their face, indicating they died very quickly. Others are obviously dying more slowly, like the ones that are wandering around. So it’s very difficult to say what this toxin is,” said McCann.

Elephants of all ages and both sexes have been dying, local reports found. Several live elephants appeared weak and emaciated, suggesting more will die in the coming weeks. The true number of deaths is likely to be even higher because carcasses can be difficult to spot, say conservationists.

Cyanide poisoning – often used by poachers in Zimbabwe – remains a possibility, but scavenging animals do not seem to be dying at the carcasses. Local reports say there were fewer vultures on carcasses than expected, but none showed signs of abnormal behaviour. “There is no precedent for this being a natural phenomenon but without proper testing, it will never be known,” said McCann. Covid-19 has been mentioned as a possible cause but is considered unlikely.

There are about 15,000 elephants in the delta, 10% of the country’s total. Eco-tourism contributes between 10-12% of Botswana’s GDP, second only to diamonds. “You see elephants as assets of the country. They are the diamonds wandering around the Okavango delta,” said McCann. “It’s a conservation disaster – it speaks of a country that is failing to protect its most valuable resource.”

The tusks of deceased elephants have not been removed and conservationists have urged authorities to guard the carcasses so that poachers do not take them.

There have been no reports of elephant deaths in neighbouring countries.

“There is real concern regarding the delay in getting the samples to an accredited laboratory for testing in order to identify the problem – and then take measures to mitigate it,” said Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency in London.

“The lack of urgency is of real concern and does not reflect the actions of a responsible custodian. There have been repeated offers of help from private stakeholders to facilitate urgent testing which appear to have fallen on deaf ears … and the increasing numbers are, frankly, shocking.”

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One of the hundreds of elephants that have died from unknown causes

Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana’s department of wildlife and national parks, told the Guardian: “We are aware of the elephants that are dying. Out of the 350 animals we have confirmed 280 of those animals. We are still in the process of confirming the rest.

“We have sent [samples] off for testing and we are expecting the results over the next couple of weeks or so,” he said. “The Covid-19 restrictions have not helped in the transportation of samples in the region and around the world. We’re now beginning to emerge from that and that is why we are now in a position to send the samples to other laboratories.” Taolo declined to say which laboratories they had been sent to.

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features @phoeb0 

Conservation in crisis: ecotourism collapse threatens communities and wildlife

===

Hundreds of elephants found dead in Botswana

By BBC - 01. July 2020

Two elephants lie beside a watering hole
Image copyright Supplied

Mystery surrounds the "completely unprecedented" deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana over the last two months.

Dr Niall McCann said colleagues in the southern African country had spotted more than 350 elephant carcasses in the Okavango Delta since the start of May.

No one knows why the animals are dying, with lab results on samples still weeks away, according to the government.

Botswana is home to a third of Africa's declining elephant population.

Dr McCann, of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, told the BBC local conservationists first alerted the government in early May, after they undertook a flight over the delta.

"They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight," he said. "To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was extraordinary.

"A month later, further investigations identified many more carcasses, bringing the total to over 350."

"This is totally unprecedented in terms of numbers of elephants dying in a single event unrelated to drought," he added.

An elephant lies dead in the bush

 

Back in May, Botswana's government ruled out poaching as a reason - noting the tusks had not been removed, according to Phys.org.

There are other things which point to something other than poaching.

"It is only elephants that are dying and nothing else," Dr McCann said. "If it was cyanide used by poachers, you would expect to see other deaths."

Dr McCann has also tentatively ruled out natural anthrax poisoning, which killed at least 100 elephants in Bostwana last year.

But they have been unable to rule out either poisoning or disease. The way the animals appear to be dying - many dropping on their faces - and sightings of other elephants walking in circles points to something potentially attacking their neurological systems, Dr McCann said.

An elephant dead on his side

Either way, without knowing the source, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of a disease crossing into the human population - especially if the cause is in either the water sources or the soil. Dr McCann points to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is believed to have started in animals.

"Yes, it is a conservation disaster - but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis," he said.

Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana's department of wildlife and national parks, told the Guardian they had so far confirmed at least 280 elephants had died, and were in the process of confirming the rest.

However, they did not know what was causing the animals' deaths.

"We have sent [samples] off for testing and we are expecting the results over the next couple of weeks or so," he said.

===

Mystery deepens as elephant death toll hits 170

By MBONGENI MGUNI  & THALEFANG CHARLES

The mystery around the mortalities of elephants in the North West deepened this week, with reports that the death toll has reached 170 and authorities still have no clue of the cause as samples are stuck in a backlogged South African laboratory.

Exactly a month after the first official carcass was found near Seronga on May 11, the cause of the deaths continues a mystery, while more carcasses, of varying states of decay are reportedly being found.

Samples from the carcasses were sent to South Africa’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Laboratory nearly two weeks ago, but Mmegi is informed the results have not returned as they hit a backlog there.

“The lab was in a lockdown due to the Coronavirus and only recently restarted operations,” insiders close to the matter told Mmegi.

“The question is how government will get the lab to prioritise its tests over others.”

The matter has stirred concern from local wildlife NGOs, private vets and other experts who feel government has iced them out of the matter. Hostile animal rights lobbyists who regularly target Botswana over its elephant policies have restarted their campaigns online, saying the delayed results show that the government is “hiding something”.

The anti-hunting lobby that has regularly attacked Botswana, the government and personally targeted President Mokgweetsi Masisi is rumbling online again fortified by the delay in the results.

This week, reports also emerged that government’s bid to investigate the deaths had run out of funds at local level in Maun, potentially affecting the payments required to be made to the Pretoria lab.

Regional wildlife coordinator, Dimakatso Ntshebe was quoted by an online publication, Botswana Safari News, as saying while funds had run out, the Ministry would be replenishing the effort soon. Ntshebe was unavailable for comment by press time yesterday.

“The private sector is ready and willing to help with resources both financial and technical,” insiders following the matter told Mmegi.

“In fact, if local vets had been involved in the sending of samples, they would have used contacts and platforms at Onderstepoort not available to government and the results would have been out by now.

“From the beginning, government should have pooled experts from various sectors, the Department of Wildlife, elephant

and wildlife experts and others in an emergency team to look at this matter.

“It would have helped build advice and even properly fund the issue.”

Meanwhile, while the cause of the elephants’ deaths is not clearer. Reports from the area suggest a widespread and crippling agent at work. Elephants are being found having fallen face first, with their tusks in the ground, as though the cause of the death struck them mid-stride.

Other herds have been observed weak, emaciated and even limping, while the deaths are occurring in clusters.

“Those who observed some of the carcasses found scavengers feeding on the elephants without any effect. No other animals are being found dead except the elephants.

“The feeling is that the numbers are higher than 170 but more aerial surveys need to be done.

“The Department is running out of funds at a critical time because more work needs to be done in the field to properly gauge the extent of the problem.”

Most of the carcasses are being found in a belt of the Eastern Okavango Panhandle near villages such as Seronga, Betsha, Gunotsoga, Manga and others. From the GPS coordinates that were passed to Mmegi, 74 carcasses were found in a space of 20km along the busy elephant corridor between Gunotsoga and Eretsha.

The elephant corridor is used by elephants to move from their grazing area through the farms, across the road and through the villages to the river to drink water and return.

Authorities previously ruled out poisoning, arguing that this would have affected other species and the animals scavenging on the elephant carcasses. Anthrax has not been ruled out, but it is not in season, Mmegi is informed.

Experts believe that while the first official case was recorded on May 11, the deaths have been taking place for up to two months prior to that.

Repeated efforts to contact Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism officials were fruitless by yesterday afternoon.

===

Mass Elephant Deaths: Anthrax, Poison Ruled Out in Botswana

By  - 31. Updated on
  • Unexplained death toll of the animals has risen to 110

  • Carcasses have been found in regions of remote north west

Elephants near the Nxaraga village on the outskirts of Maun, Botswana.

Elephants near the Nxaraga village on the outskirts of Maun, Botswana. Photographer: Monirul Bhuiyan/AFP via Getty Images

Anthrax and poisoning have been ruled out as the cause of a rising number of unexplained elephant deaths in Botswana, the country with the world’s biggest population of the animals.

Wildlife authorities have now discovered 110 carcasses in north west Botswana, up from the 56 announced earlier in May according to a government statement.

“I would say 90% of the new cases we have found are old carcasses we previously did not locate,” said Dimakatso Ntshebe, a regional wildlife director, in an interview. “However, a few are indeed new deaths. All recovered carcasses do not show signs of poaching.”

Elephants have become a political issue in the southern African nation, with President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifting a hunting ban and saying more needed to be done to stop the 135,000 elephants in the country from damaging crops and occasionally trampling villagers.

Further efforts to determine the cause of the deaths has been complicated by travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic that have delayed sending samples to a laboratory in Zimbabwe, Ntshebe said.

Almost all of the world’s African elephants live in southern Africa.

(Adds elephants’ location in last paragraph)

===

Elephants found poisoned in Botswana

By Nyawira Mwangi - 16. May 2020

FILE PHOTO: A pair of male elephants is seen in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, April 25, 2018. Picture taken April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/

Residents in Seronga village in Botswana’s North-West District have been warned of poisoned elephant carcasses.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks on Friday cautioned that there are elephant mortalities recorded in the areas surrounding the villages of Seronga, Gunotsoga and Eretsha.

“Members of the public are urged to desist from ingesting meat from such carcasses since the animals are dying of unknown causes and this could be hazardous to their health,” said Onalenna Moyo, the spokesperson Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism.

Authorities have asked communities to report any sightings of elephant carcasses.

Botswana has the largest elephant population on the continent due to a number of reasons, including tight protection and civil unrest in neighboring countries.

Despite these positive achievements recorded over the years, poaching activities have certainly not stopped as poachers continue to target rhinos, elephants and other endangered species in the country’s national parks.

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VIEWER'S DISCRETION ADVISED !

A bloated elephant carcass is seen in the Okavango Delta. 15,000 are believed to be in the wildlife habitat aloneA bloated elephant carcass is seen in the Okavango Delta. 15,000 are believed to be in that wildlife habitat alone  More than 350 elephants have died from unknown causes, with aerial photos showing their carcasses scattered across the Okavango Delta (pictured) and other northern BotswanaMore than 350 elephants have died from unknown causes, with aerial photos showing their carcasses scattered across the Okavango Delta (pictured) and other northern Botswana  The carcasses are yet to be tested for pathogens or poison despite the first dying in early MayThe carcasses are yet to be tested for pathogens or poison despite the first dying in early May  The country's government has blamed covid-19 restrictions for the slow processing of the elephant's tests and said the tests have been sent to another country for analysisThe country's government has blamed covid-19 restrictions for the slow processing of the elephant's tests and said the tests have been sent to another country for analysis  Locals say 70 per cent of the deaths are taking place near waterholes, which could offer a clueLocals say 70 per cent of the deaths are taking place near waterholes, which could offer a clue  An elephant's sunken body is seen in the bushes, locals remarked that fewer vultures than would normally have been expected had interfered with the bodiesAn elephant's sunken body is seen in the bushes, locals remarked that fewer vultures than would normally have been expected had interfered with the bodies  President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifted a five-year ban on big game hunting, however coronavirus has not allowed the season to commence this yearPresident Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifted a five-year ban on big game hunting, however coronavirus has not allowed the season to commence this year  Dr McCann said the recent deaths were a 'conservation disaster' as the country fails to protect one of its most valuable assetsDr McCann said the recent deaths were a 'conservation disaster' as the country fails to protect one of its most valuable assets  Eco-tourism is a large part of the country's income, 130,000 elephants are thought to be living in the countryEco-tourism is a large part of the country's income, 130,000 elephants are thought to be living in the country  Locals have urged the government to guard the elephant's bodies to stop tusks being removed by poachersLocals have urged the government to guard the elephant's bodies to stop tusks being removed by poachers  It is not known if the animal's bodies pose a risk to humans, with urgent testing neededIt is not known if the animal's bodies pose a risk to humans, with urgent testing needed  An elephant's body decomposes. It appears to have died a quick death falling from standing into an unnatural positionAn elephant's body decomposes. It appears to have died a quick death falling from standing into an unnatural position     

===

ICYMI - In Case You Missed It:

Elephants successfully translocated to Nxai and Makgadikgadi to address overpopulation

Ongoing elephant operation successful – source: dailynews.gov.bw

In the first operation of its kind between the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and Limpopo Limpadi Private Game Reserve, 14 out of the targeted 20 bull elephants have been translocated to  Makgadikgadi National Park and Nxai Pan National Park.

Principal Wildlife Warden, Thekiso Thekiso revealed this in an interview on Tuesday against the backdrop of an ongoing translocation operation of the elephants which commenced July 23. Thekiso said the translocation came after consultations between the department and Limpopo Limpadi Private Game Reserve management, who were concerned about the degradation of vegetation in the area caused by elephant overpopulation. The two parties agreed to translocate 20 bull elephants to Makgadikgadi National Park and Nxai Pan National Park.

He said the operation had gone smoothly since commencing due to the cooperation of all stakeholders. Thekiso explained that conservation was the department’s ultimate objective, hence the decision to translocate the elephants rather than having them slaughtered or hunted.

Furthermore, he said there was an agreement in place between the government and game farm owners to move animals to more conducive areas when their population spikes. The game farm and business partners paid for the current operation, while the WildLife Department monitored the safety of the animals by ensuring they were handled accordingly until they reached their designated destination, he said. Thekiso also noted the department was awake to the Human-Wildlife Conflict hence the translocation of the elephants to a place of safety where they would be monitored through collars or markings on their tusks. He stressed the importance of animals, adding if Botswana continued taking good care of its animals, it would impact positively on its tourism industry.

In a related interview, Dr Eric Verreynne of Vet & Agric Consultants said research was done prior to undertaking the operation. 

“It was a well-planned investigation before deciding where to take them,” said Dr Verreynne.

For his part, the private game reserve General Manager, Glen McDonald said the aim was to ensure that the translocation would enable the reserve to increase diversity and protect all big trees in the area. He explained that while there were various options of dealing with increased animal populations, including slaughtering or hunting, the most ideal was translocation. He said some shareholders raised funds that were required to translocate the 20 bull elephants to a much wider location with good forage.

So far 14 bull elephants had already been translocated, he said. 

Source: BOPA

===

Already in 2018 there was a mass-killing of Elephants, but back then all the ivory was removed immediately, a clear mistake by those responsible ... with fingers pointing at high-ranking army officials.

87 Elephants Slaughtered in One of the Largest Poaching Incidents in Africa

By  

Eighty-seven elephants lay dead, most of them with their skulls chopped off near a wildlife sanctuary in the Okavango Delta. Poachers tried to hide the carcasses beneath drying bushes, NPR reported Monday (Sept. 3). [Elephant Images: The Biggest Beasts on Land]

Mike Chase, the director and founder of Elephants Without Borders, the nonprofit that conducted the survey, told the BBCthat the poaching incident is one of the largest he's seen or read about in Africa. In the same area, three white rhinos were poached and killed in the past three months, according to NPR.

Ivory poaching is a huge problem for the continent; a third of Africa's elephants were killed in the past decade, according to the BBC.

But until recently, Botswana was largely unaffected, thanks to strong anti-poaching policies and armed anti-poaching units, according to the BBC. Indeed, tracking collars reveal that elephants that migrate from neighboring countries have largely stayed in Botswana.

This latest incident comes a few months after Botswana disarmed its anti-poaching units following the election of Mokgweetsi Masisi as president, according to the BBC.

There could be even more cases of poached elephants, according to the BBC. The aerial survey is only about halfway complete.

===

Nearly 90 elephants killed near Botswana wildlife sanctuary

By CGTN Africa - 04. September 2018

Close to ninety elephants have been killed close to a famous park in the southern African country of Botswana, conservation group Elephants Without Borders have disclosed.

Almost all of the dead animals had their tusks removed stressing the view that the incident was directly connected to the activities of poachers.

Botswana has had a reputation for an unforgiving approach to poachers and had largely escaped the elephant losses seen elsewhere.

Despite a lack of fences on the international border, data from tracking collars showed elephants retreating from Angola, Namibia and Zambia and deciding to stay within the boundaries of Botswana where it was thought to be safe.

Incidents of poaching in the country were rare because of armed and well-managed anti-poaching units.

With 130,000 elephants, Botswana has been described as their last sanctuary in Africa as poaching for ivory continues to wipe out herds across the rest of the continent.

Dr. Mike Chase with Elephants Without Borders says this new incident could have a devastating effect on its tourism industry. He is the scientist carrying out an extensive survey of the deaths.

“I’m shocked, I’m completely astounded. The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I’ve seen or read about anywhere in Africa to date,” he told the BBC.

“When I compare this to figures and data from the Great Elephant Census, which I conducted in 2015, we are recording double the number of fresh poached elephants than anywhere else in Africa,” he added.

He also linked the incident to the disarming of Botswana’s anti-poaching unit since the coming into office of President Eric Masisi. The current deaths are said to have happened weeks back and further in the country close to the protected Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary.

The Okavango Delta is a vast inland river delta in northern Botswana. It’s known for its sprawling grassy plains, which flood seasonally, becoming a lush animal habitat. It is described as Africa’s last eden.

The government at the time of disarming the anti-poaching unit did not give a reason for the move and has also yet to respond to the latest report. The survey is still underway and it is feared that the final figure could be higher.

“This requires urgent and immediate action by the Botswana government. Botswana has always been at the forefront of conservation and it will require political will.

“Our new president must uphold Botswana’s legacy and tackle this problem quickly. Tourism is vitally important for our economy, jobs, as well as our international reputation, which is at stake here as being a safe stronghold for elephants.” said Mr Chase.

===

Maybe those elephants remembered him as a culprit:

Elephants trample Botswana soldier to death

By Jerry Omondi - 26. October 2018

The Botswana Defense Force (BDF) has confirmed that one of its soldiers was trampled to death by a herd of elephants on Thursday.

BDF’s spokesperson Fana Maswabi said the incident occurred in one of their operational bases.

The force did not however reveal the identity of the soldier pending notification of his family.

Maswabi said investigations were ongoing to ascertain the cause of the attack by the elephants.

BDF has appealed to the public to accord the family and friends of the deceased the respect and privacy they deserve to mourn their beloved.

ELEPHANT KILLS SOLDIER |The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has confirmed the death of a soldier who was attacked and killed by a herd of elephant in an unfortunate incident that took place October 25 morning at one of the operational bases at around 0630hours. pic.twitter.com/jyaX476may

— Botswana Government (@BWGovernment) October 25, 2018

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