What Killed Hundreds of Elephants in Botswana? Still Unknown

July 27, 2020 Updated: July 27, 2020

GABORONE, Botswana—Botswana’s government says it still doesn’t know what caused the deaths of hundreds of elephants in recent weeks, but testing continues.

Poaching and anthrax have been ruled out as the likely cause. Other possibilities being examined include a novel virus and poisoning. The investigation involves help from laboratories in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Britain, and the United States.

“While there has not been any indication of fresh carcasses or signs that the mortality has spread beyond the initial area of concern, the district team on the ground will continue to monitor the situation, remove ivory from carcasses and take them to safe custody as well as destroy carcasses that are close to the villages and human settlements,” the acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Oduetse Koboto, told diplomats Saturday.

dead elephants botswana
A combination photo shows dead elephants in Okavango Delta, Botswana, May-June, 2020. (Handout via Reuters)

The investigations, including an aerial survey, are expected to be completed this week.

Botswana’s National Veterinary Laboratory has not been able to establish the causes of death despite examining 281 of the elephant carcasses found in the popular Okavango Delta area of the country’s north.

This is “one of the biggest disasters to impact elephants this century, and right in the middle of one of Africa’s top tourism destinations,” the director of conservation group National Park Rescue, Mark Hiley, has said.

Botswana has the world’s highest population of elephants with more than 156,000 counted in a 2013 aerial survey in the north.

By Sello Motseta