About 300 elephants have died in recent months in northern Botswana, the country with the largest colony of pachyderms in the world, without signs of violence and without death being attributed to any known poison or disease for the time being, something that seriously worries conservationists.
“Investigations into the unexplained death of elephants are still ongoing.“The government of Botswana said in a statement on Thursday.
The authorities of the southern nation put the total deaths at 275, but conservation organizations working in the area speak of more than 350.
“It’s very, very strange, especially that it’s just elephants. Makes me suspect that it’s some pathogen or disease of some kind, but it’s just speculation“Said Niall McCann, director of conservation for the British organization National Park Rescue who has taken the initiative in publicizing this problem.
Alarms began to jump in early May, when the carcasses of a handful of elephants were located in the Okavango Delta area and local experts were unable to guess a cause of death with the naked eye.
“That’s always troubling because you can usually tell if they died from poison, from a gunshot … So they called other conservationists to fly over the area and located 169 bodies.McCann said in a telephone conversation from Cardiff (UK).
In mid-June, considering that the Government of Botswana had not made significant progress, the local ecologists made another fight.
“That is always worrying because you can usually tell if they were killed by poison or by a shot. “
With this new search, the total number of elephants killed by unknown causes increased, according to their counts, to 350.
“In addition, there were other elephants walking around that clearly showed signs of neurological impairments, such as walking in circles or having unstable legs.. For me that indicates that whatever it is, whether it is a disease, a poison or a toxin, it has effects on the nervous system, ”said the expert.
The Government of Botswana, however, puts the total number of deceased elephants at 275 deaths. And he assured today, in response to the stir caused by the news, that samples have already been sent to laboratories in other countries to find out the cause of the mysterious deaths.
There is no shortage of water or food in the area, nor precedents that can explain the situation.
Poachers occasionally use poison to kill them and make their fangs, but the most common substances (mainly cyanide) also leave their mark on other species, such as vultures or hyenas that fed on carcasses.
In this case, there are no signs that what kills the huge mammals is affecting any other species. and all deaths are concentrated only in the Okavango Delta region.
Neither does it appear to be related to the presence of anthrax, a toxin found in the natural environment and that in times of scarcity of rain contaminates the surface and is a habitual cause of death for fauna.
“Anthrax usually leaves an obvious mark. The legs (of the elephants) are stretched and the head tilted back. They are not dying like this. Also, anthrax in soil without water would normally kill a large number of different animals, “McCann said.
For conservationists, the Botswana government is being “very slow to respond”, even despite the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The region is closed and resources are scarce. They do not have the capacity locally to do all the necessary tests to identify the problem and need help. The second reason is more political, this Administration has always taken care to demonstrate to rural inhabitants that they do not care more about animals than people, “said McCann.
There are no signs that what kills the huge mammals is affecting any other species.
The risk is that, according to this specialist, it cannot be ignored that what is killing the elephants could lead to a true health crisis for all wildlife, livestock and even humans.
Conservationists cannot even claim, because the tests have not been done, that it is the dreaded coronavirus that affects elephants.
“It is probably not coronavirus, but it has not been ruled out either. It is known that it can affect cats ”, he pointed out.
“We need to have a unitary approach to health with this: with a healthy environment we have human societies too. We have to find out what this is so it doesn’t have a negative impact on people as well, “McCann concluded.
Botswana, with a colony of around 125,000 specimens, is the country in the world with the most elephants. Of these, 10% are in the Okavango Delta area.