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Hundreds of elephants have died in Botswana and no one knows why

Over 350 elephants in Botswana have died in the Okavango Delta region. The cause of this catastrophic die-off is still unknown.

More than 350 elephants have died in northern Botswana and no one knows why. This tragic die-off has been described as a “complete failure in their protection”. It all began in early May when a group of dead elephants was found near the Okavango Delta (Africa’s ninth-longest river). By the end of the month, almost 170 of the animals had died, a number that doubled again by mid-June. 70 per cent of these animals were found, lifeless, near watering holes. The number of actual deaths is hard to estimate, as it is often hard to find carcasses hidden by vegetation.

A neurological problem is suspected

Poisoning or an unknown illness are among the hypotheses for what’s causing the die-off, while anthrax – which was initially considered – has been excluded as a cause. Some local witnesses have reported that, just before dying, the elephants start walking around in circles, which could point to a neurological problem. “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,” Niall McCann – the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescuetold the Guardian.

Two months have passed since the first carcass was found, but the government still hasn’t carried out autopsies to ascertain the cause of death and possible risks to human health. This delay is seen as being very worrying by many nature conservation organisations.

Another die-off is feared

The case is shrouded in mystery: this unexplained phenomenon has killed of male and female elephants of all ages, apparently with no distinctions. There are strong fears that more elephants could die in the coming weeks, made worse by sightings of specimens that have lost a significant amount of weight.

According to McCann, “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”.

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