Hundreds of elephants in northern Botswana have mysteriously died over the last two months in what experts are describing as a “conservation disaster.”
Since early May, the carcasses of more than 350 elephants have been spotted in the Okavango Delta—the cause of their deaths, unknown. Some 70 percent of the deaths were clustered around waterholes, local sources told The Guardian.
“This is a mass die-off on a level that hasnt been seen in a very, very long time,” Dr. Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue, told the news outlet. “Outside of drought, I dont know of a die-off that has been this significant.”
The first deaths were reported at the start of May, when 169 elephant carcasses were spotted in the northwestern wetland area by local conversationists, who then alerted the government.
“They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight,” McCann told the BBC. “To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was 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,” he added.
Although the cause of the elephants death is yet to be determined, the Botswana government has reportedly ruled out poaching, as the carcasses were found intact, suggested they were not poached, according to Phys.org.
Africas overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continents elephants, has seen numbers grow to 130,000 from 80,000 in the late 1990s, owing to well managed reserves.
However, they are seen as a growing nuisance by farmers, whose crops have been destroyed by elephants roaming the southern African country.
Further investigations have also ruled out poisoning by humans or anthrax—a serious infectious disease—as possible causes of death. Anthrax was initially considered the most likely cause of the elephants deaths. Last year, more than