More than 300 animals have died in Botswana since May. The country’s authorities and biologists have not yet given an exact explanation for this: not a single version has been confirmed, and data for a full-fledged study is still being collected. Nevertheless, there is an assumption that the toxin is to blame for the death of animals.
Cyril Taolo, director of Botswana’s wildlife and national parks department, said a natural toxin was the likely cause of the mass deaths of elephants. Earlier, the country’s authorities said that the animals are dying through no fault of the poachers: none of the animals were found to have body injuries or tusks. The involvement of hunters was also ruled out because the season was not open: restrictions imposed due to the pandemic interfered.
For a long time, experts believed that the pestilence caused illness or poisoning, but Taolo doubted the possible infection since the tests made did not detect viruses and bacteria. The government has sent biological samples to laboratories in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada, and the United States for testing. Preliminary studies have identified a toxin in the materials, which means that the death of elephants is due to environmental factors.
Experts noted that finding suitable biological samples is an extremely difficult task. The bodies of animals in remote areas can be searched for several days, during which time the carcass begins to decompose or scavengers manage to eat the organs necessary for tests. In addition, samples may deteriorate during transport, which also takes time.
As Taolo noted, all research is now focused on finding toxins that can be found in food and water. He also added that until the department received the results of all tests – 275 carcasses out of 356 registered were studied – so it is too early to name the exact reason. “This is a knockout game,” the director said. “We start to investigate the most likely causes, and then we move on to the less common ones. Then we check them using laboratory tests. We hope to provide accurate information as soon as possible”.
In early July, the Botswana government launched an investigation into the mass death of elephants after the incident was reported by Elephants Without Borders (EWB). Its director, Michael Chase, said that they found weak, lethargic, and emaciated animals, which, moreover, had great difficulty in walking. “One elephant walked in circles, unable to change the direction of movement”, he added.
Over the past three months, experts have registered the death of more than 300 animals. They are sure that the possible reason for this must be established as soon as possible before the situation gets out of control: what killed the elephants could harm other animals and humans.