Bots, Zim ponder an elephant of a problem

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Mpho Tebele

Gaborone - Zimbabwe is the latest country to be approached by Botswana to help it solve the mystery surrounding the deaths of more than 275 elephants in the Okavango Panhandle.

Investigations have revealed no evidence of poaching so far.

Director in the Department of Tourism, Kelebaone Maselesele, made the disclosure while updating the nation on how Botswana was addressing the mysterious deaths of the elephants. Botswana has also sought the assistance of South Africa and Canada.

Maselesele said a laboratory in Zimbabwe had “been identified to process the samples taken from the dead elephants, which will be interpreted against field veterinary assessments of clinically ill and dead elephants”.

Elephant Without Borders director Dr Mike Chase separately said: “These samples need to be correctly preserved in formalin before being sent quickly to laboratory testing. We recommend Dr Chris Fogging at the Victoria Falls Wildlife Disease and Forensics Laboratory, who is renowned in this discipline.”

Maselesele said that following the mysterious deaths of elephants in the areas around Seronga since March 2020 to date, 275 elephant carcasses have been verified against the 356 reported cases. Furthermore, investigations regarding the unexplained deaths of elephants are still ongoing.

She assured the nation that tusks are being removed from the dead elephants and carcasses within proximity to human settlements continue to be destroyed.

Botswana has the world's largest elephant population, estimated to be around 130,000.

Dr Chase warned: “Personal observations of elephants near waterholes suggest more elephants could die of this mysterious ailment. The scale and pattern of elephant mortality occurring in the Okavango Panhandle needs further scientific investigation.

“Carcasses we counted from the air are in remote and inaccessible Mophane woodland. Similar elephant deaths have not been recorded in Namibia, who have been informed of this incident.”

He said the first deaths were reported as early April and they have continued for three months now.

“Some elephants appeared disorientated, had difficulty walking, showed signs of partial paralysis or a limp in their legs. One elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although being encouraged by other herd members. We saw a dead horse in the middle of a natural waterhole (pan).

“Carcasses of other wildlife species were not seen. Although we expected to see more vultures, those observed on fresh carcasses showed no signs of concerning abnormal behaviour. We saw no signs that humans had attempted to chop skulls to remove tusks.”

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