The mistery of dead elephants in Botswana


We all know that hundreds elephants have been dying during the last few months in northern Botswana, in a mysterious mass die-off described by scientists as a “conservation disaster”. But nobody knows which is the cause yet, even if some samples have been already taken from the dead elephants by government officials.


JULY 2020


Dead elephant around Seronga, Botswana

The mysterious deaths of elephants took place in the areas around Seronga, on the northern fringes of the Okavango Delta, Botswana, since March 2020 and the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism wished to inform that 275 elephant carcasses have been verified against the 356 reported cases. Investigations regarding the unexplained deaths of elephants are however ongoing. 

Elephants of all ages and both sexes have been dying and live elephants near water sources were observed to be emaciated, lethargic and disoriented, and some appeared to have little control over their legs. Also, local witnesses have seen some elephants walking around in circles, which is an indication of neurological disability. This suggests more elephants will probably be dead in the coming weeks. The true number of deaths is likely to be even higher because carcasses are not easy to spot, say conservationists.

“If you look at the carcasses, some of them have fallen straight on their face, indicating they died very quickly. Others are obviously dying more slowly, like the ones that are wandering around. So it’s very difficult to say what this toxin is” said Dr. Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue


The public is also informed that the sample have been sent for testing to three laboratories in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Canada but the results are not yet out.

“The Covid-19 restrictions have not helped in the transportation of samples in the region and around the world. We’re now beginning to emerge from that and that is why we are now in a position to send the samples to other laboratories.” Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana’s department of wildlife and national parks said.

But there was a lot of  concern about this delay and the lack of urgency doesn’t reflect the actions of a responsible custodian. 

Without the sample results, also, there is no information on what is causing the deaths or whether they could pose a risk to human health. However, the two main possibilities are poisoning or an unknown pathogen. 

In any case, tusks of dead elephants have not been removed and carcasses show no sign of having been chopped to take out the ivory.

    Dead elephant around Seronga, Botswana


    Dead elephant around Seronga, Botswana


    “This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant,” said Dr McCann.

    For instance, a possible death cause could be cyanide poisoning which is  often used by poachers in Zimbabwe, but scavenging animals don’t seem to be dying at the carcasses. There were fewer vultures feasting on dead elephants than expected, but they appear unaffected. 

    Dead elephant around Seronga, Botswana


    Conservationists have urged authorities to guard the carcasses so that poachers don’t take them and now the public has been informed that tusks are being removed from the dead elephants and carcasses within proximity to human settlements continue to be destroyed.

    We wish to remind all that if the matriarch dies, the whole elephant herd will suffer and even die if they don’t find a good substitute. So, this means that more elephants could die indirectly.

    We’ll just have to wait for new statements from Botswana governement.  Let’s hope soon.


    “There are about 15,000 elephants in the delta, 10% of the country’s total…. It’s a conservation disaster – it speaks of a country that is failing to protect its most valuable resource.”  said McCann

    None of the images used in this post contains locational data, and so they cannot be used by those wishing to collect ivory illegally. 


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