In a shocking revelation, hundreds of elephants were found dead in southern African country in Botswana and no one seems to know the reason behind their mysterious deaths. Local conservationists and officials are baffled by the discovery and calling it a "conservation disaster" in a county that is home to a third of Africa's declining elephant population.
There's no exact number of elephants that have dropped that, but forest officials say they have spotted more than 350 elephant carcasses in the Okavango Delta since the start of May. Of these, the forest officials have confirmed 280 and are in the process of confirming the rest.
By the end of May, 169 elephants had died in the region and by mid June, the number had more than doubled. Most carcasses are found near waterholes.
"They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight. To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight were 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," Niall McCann of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue told BBC.
Why are elephants dropping dead?
The mystery behind elephants dropping dead remains unsolved and attempts are being made to uncover the truth. Botswana government has ruled out poaching, anthrax poisoning as the possible reasons behind the mysterious deaths of hundreds of elephants. The tusks were intact and scavenging animals consuming the carcasses haven't died, ruling out two main possibilities of poachers and poisoning, respectively.
Studying the carcasses, it has revealed that the elephants are dying due to some neurological condition. The elephants were dropping on their faces, suggesting they died instantly. Other elephants were seen walking in circles, suggesting a neurological condition.
Lack of urgency is concerning
McCann expressed shock in the Botswana government's lax response to testing the samples in order to figure out what caused the deaths. "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," he said, suggesting COVID-19 cannot be ruled out as a possibility.
"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," Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency in London said.
In response, Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana's department of wildlife and national parks, told the Guardian that the samples have been sent for testing, but the results won't arrive for the next couple of weeks. Taolo said the delay is due to COVID-19 restrictions on transport.