Hundreds of elephants have died mysteriously in Botswana’s famed Okavango Delta, according to an official who ruled out poaching as the tusks were found intact.
The landlocked country has the world’s largest elephant population, estimated at 130,000. The Delta alone is home to an estimated 15,000 elephants.
“We have had a report of 356 dead elephants in the area north of the Okavango Delta, and we have confirmed 275 so far,” Cyril Taolo, acting director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, told AFP news agency in a text message.
He said the cause of the deaths was yet to be established.
“We do not suspect poaching since (the) animals were found with tusks,” he said.
Later on Thursday, the government said it was investigating the “mysterious deaths”.
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks said it was mobilising human personnel and aircraft to better understand the situation.
Samples have been collected for analysis at labs in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Canada
Similar deaths were first reported in May when authorities found 12 carcasses in just a week in two villages in the northwest of the country.
The latest discoveries were flagged by a wildlife conservation charity, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), whose confidential report referring to the 356 dead elephants was leaked to the media on Wednesday.
EWB suspects the elephants have been dying in the area for about three months.
According to the report, dated June 19, 2020, “70 percent of elephant carcasses were considered recent, having died about a month ago, and 30 percent of the carcasses appeared fresh, ranging from one day to two weeks old.”
It added: “There was good evidence to show elephants of all ages and sex appear to be dying,”
Several live elephants appeared weak, lethargic and emaciated, some showing signs of disorientation, difficulty walking or limping, EWB said.
“One elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although being encouraged by other herd members,” its report said.