Bots engages SA as mystery deaths of elephants deepen

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Mpho Tebele

Gaborone-Botswana through the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism has engaged South African authorities to probe the mysterious death of more than 115 elephants in the Okavango panhandle.

As the mystery surrounding the deaths of elephants in Botswana deepens after initial test results ruled out poisoning and anthrax, authorities sent samples from dead elephants for testing in South Africa.
Reports indicate that the samples were taken on May 28, according to the regional wildlife coordinator Dimmakatso Ntshebe.
Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Philda  Kereng was in Seronga (one of the villages where the mass death of elephants is reported to have occurred) on 29th May 2020 on a fact finding mission regarding the mysterious death of more that 115 elephants.

Kereng was given an update by a team consisting of Wildlife Officers, Veterinary Doctors, Village Leadership, Botswana Defence Force and Botswana Police.

The deaths were first reported on the 11th of May 2020, and carcasses were found intact ruling out the possibility of poaching. Upon further investigations, it was established that anthrax and human poisoning are not the cause of death. The Minister was also taken to sites where carcasses were found. Investigation into the deaths are still ongoing.

 

“These elephants’ deaths are a cause for concern. We have always as a country relied on tourism as a source of revenue, and these animals are one of the tourist attraction species in the country,” she said.

Authorities in the country, which has the largest population of elephants in the world, continue to search for a reason for the deaths. Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population, at more than 130,000.

I would say 90% of the new cases we have found are old carcasses we previously did not locate,” said Ntshebe. He said more animals could die, as some look sickly.

“We are still experiencing elephants dying in the Okavango Panhandle. We also see elephants that show that they are sick and are on the verge of dying,” he said.

Villagers have been warned against consuming meat from the dead animals.

Ntshebe said the public has thus far heeded the call.

The Department of Wildlife has begun removing tusks from the carcasses.

Ntshebe also said, “We have started removing the tusks in the dead elephants, and we have started burning the carcasses.We started with those (carcasses), which are close to the villages, and those that are lying in the water. The idea is to burn as many carcasses as possible. However, we have a challenge since some of the carcasses are in areas which are difficult to reach.”

Principal Veterinary Officer at Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), Dr Wave Kashweeka said results for samples that the investigating team had taken for post-mortem first round, came out negative for anthrax.

He said they had now beefed-up the team by bringing on board doctors from the department of veterinary services to work together on investigations.

Kashweeka observed that in their investigations, all dead elephants they took samples of, had a common symptom of flabby hearts.

He said they took samples from an anaesthetised elephant to compare with those from animals that were found dead.

He was quoted as saying that the latest samples were taken on May 23 and were to be taken to some laboratories in Pretoria or Victoria Falls for further tests.

Kashweeka further noted that an observation was also made where some of the elephants in the area were found to have difficulties in walking or dragging their feet.

He also said the investigating team engaged the community by conducting interviews for indigenous knowledge information.

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