Botswana investigates mysterious deaths of 275 elephants

GABORONE (Reuters) – The number of elephants found dead in Botswana’s Okavango Panhandle has increased to 275 from 154 reported two weeks ago, the government said on Thursday.

A dead elephant is seen in this undated brochure image in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, May-June 2020. PHOTOS OBTAINED BY REUTERS / Brochure via REUTERS

Authorities are investigating the unexplained deaths in recent months. Poaching has been ruled out since the bodies were found intact.

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

In early May, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), a conservation organization, reported that its own aerial study showed that elephants of all ages appeared to be dying.

“Several live elephants we observed seemed weak, lethargic, and emaciated. Some elephants appeared disoriented, had difficulty walking, showed signs of partial paralysis or lameness, “EWB Director Mike Chase said in a report seen by Reuters.

“An elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although other members of the herd encouraged it.”

In the report, EWB calculated the death toll at 356, and Chase said urgent measures were needed to determine if the deaths were caused by illness or poisoning.

Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, but Botswana, home to nearly a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen 130,000 grow 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 big game ban in May last year, but the hunting season did not take off in April, as global travel restrictions meant that hunters in many countries affected by the coronavirus were unable to enter Botswana.

Report by Brian Benza; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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