SERONGA: A herd of elephants walk through the bush in Botswana’s Okavango delta.—Reuters
SERONGA: A herd of elephants walk through the bush in Botswana’s Okavango delta.—Reuters

SERONGA: Botswana wildlife officials investigating hundreds of unexplained elephant deaths have verified six more carcasses and say it is still not clear what is killing the animals, around two months after the first bodies were spotted.

Officials told reporters near the Okavango Delta on Thursday that they had now verified 281 carcasses and that the deaths were concentrated in an area of 8,000 square km that is home to about 18,000 elephants.

“We are not dealing with a common thing, it looks like it’s a rare cause,” said Mmadi Reuben, a veterinarian, adding the death rate in the affected area was below two percent.

“We cannot rule out anything at this stage, it could be a virus, vegetation, overnutrition after last year’s drought ... We have asked the community not to interact with the carcasses.”

He said officials were expecting to receive test results this week on samples sent to South Africa and Canada.

Some campaign groups have criticised the government for acting too slowly to solve the mystery of the dying elephants, an accusation Reuben has denied.

Although the number of deaths so far represents a fraction of the estimated 130,000 elephants in Botswana, there are fears more could die if authorities cannot establish the cause soon.

Wave Kashweka, another veterinarian, said officials had found elephants which appeared to have died recently, adding aerial surveys would try to find more carcasses.

In their initial inquiries, authorities ruled out poaching and anthrax among possible causes.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2020