Worrying news has recently come to light: hundreds of elephants have been found dead in Botswana, and as yet, there is no clear cause of death. Encephalomyocarditis hasn’t been a priority for treatment or vaccine development, so if it’s to blame, there’s little recourse to counter it. How best to manage encounters between humans and elephants is politically contentious. “Most herbivores eat the blades of grass from above, but elephants kick out and consume the whole tuft—roots, rodent feces, and all,” says South African wildlife veterinarian Roy Bengis. The alarm was raised when elephant carcasses were spotted in the country's Okavango Delta between May and June. That is at least, if not more likely than this cyanobacteria as cause of death.". Yet the death toll keeps growing. The sudden deaths of some 330 elephants in northwestern Botswana earlier this year may have occurred because they drank water contaminated by toxic blue-green algae, the government announced Monday. Natural anthrax poisoning, which killed at least 100 elephants in Botswana last year, has reportedly been ruled out as a cause of death for the elephants investigated this year. Sudden death preceded by neurological symptoms would be consistent with this rodent-borne virus, which causes heart failure. This isn't the first elephant die-off in the region; more than 100 elephants died over a two-month period in the fall of 2019 in Botswana's Chobe National Park, primarily driven by drought. The elephants’ tusks aren’t missing, which rules out poaching for ivory. The mystery of unexplained elephant deaths in northwest Botswana deepened, with a study of the carcasses of hundreds of the animals indicating a … The dying animals in Botswana lived in a roughly thousand-square-mile tract in a remote area northeast of the Okavango Delta, where an estimated 18,000 elephants, 16,000 people, and 18,000 cattle live. The Botswana government, which is investigating the mysterious deaths, announced at a press conference on July 10 that it has preliminary results from laboratory tests in Zimbabwe but is waiting to share them with the public, pending conclusive answers. Their cause was initially a mystery; Botswana ordered laboratory tests to be carried out on carcass, soil and water samples as speculation grew over the deaths. Botswana is home to a third of Africa's declining elephant population. Taolo said additional clues on the ground, including that the dead elephants were all found their tusks intact further strengthened the government's findings that the deaths were naturally caused. The elephants have been dying in the Okavango Delta, northern Botswana Why you can trust Sky News Officials in Botswana are investigating the unexplained deaths of at least 350 elephants in just a few weeks. (CNN) More than 300 elephants in Botswana have been killed by toxin-producing cyanobacteria in waterholes, government wildlife officials said … More than 60 elephants in Kruger National Park died this way during the early 1990s. Some conservationists had suspected poachers of killing the elephants, which died in May. Sudden or extreme changes in weather, the landscape, or microbes’ hosts can trigger changes in bacteria or viruses, making them deadly. The only way to confirm or rule out cyanobacteria is to test the waters, which Taolo says is underway. The deaths were recorded in … Photograph: Reuters E arlier this year, more than 350 elephants mysteriously died in the Okavango delta in Botswana. Elephants were first reported to have died in the Okavango Delta, northern Botswana, at the beginning of May. Government officials say they’ve verified that 281 elephants have died since March 2020; conservation NGOs in the area say the death toll is even higher. The sudden deaths of some 330 elephants in northwestern Botswana earlier this year may have occurred because they drank water contaminated by toxic blue-green algae, the government announced Monday. Conservationists think that the death toll will be higher as "carcasses can be difficult to spot". It’s very unlikely that the animals succumbed to starvation or dehydration because the die-offs started when the waterholes were still full of rainwater, and the area they live in has an abundance of woodlands for browsing, says Erik Verreynne, a wildlife veterinarian and consultant in Botswana who directs a cattle herding program where the elephant deaths have occurred. The alarm was raised when elephant carcasses were spotted in the country's Okavango Delta … (CNN)More than 300 elephants in Botswana have been killed by toxin-producing cyanobacteria in waterholes, government wildlife officials said Monday. Sudden deaths of elephants after showing neurological symptoms—such as walking in circles, as reported by eyewitnesses—suggests anthrax poisoning is a likely possibility. Botswana has the world’s largest population of elephants, around 130,000. Botswana's mystery spate of elephant deaths could be caused by a 'novel disease', the government fears. Given that the deaths have been occurring in such a remote region, with few roads, getting to all the carcasses would be an additional challenge. More than 350 elephants were reported to have died in Botswana in recent weeks but the cause of death had remained unknown. Botswana said a new pathogen may be responsible for the death of hundreds of elephants in the country with the world's biggest population of the animals. Hundreds of elephants have mysteriously dropped dead in Botswana in what is being described as a 'conservation disaster'. Last year, President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a five-year ban on hunting elephants, citing the need to reduce dangerous encounters. The landlocked southern African country has the world's largest elephant population, estimated to be around 130,000. The bacterium that causes this infectious disease occurs naturally in soil and has been known to affect domestic and wild animals around the world. Multiple factors, including climate change, could contribute to such die-offs. It’s also possible to detect the virus itself during a necropsy. The bizarre behavior and sheer number of deaths … In 2015, some 200,000 saiga antelopes died from blood poisoning in Kazakhstan after extreme heat and humidity caused a common Pasteurella bacterium—which under normal conditions occurs harmlessly in the animals—to multiply and fatally overwhelm them. The Botswana government is testing samples from the dead elephants, but is yet to determine a cause of death. To verify this, Kock says, scientists would need to examine the victims’ liver, which acts as the body’s natural toxin filter, and stomach, where the potentially contaminated food might be testable. The species is classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List. "If it's in waterholes or was in waterholes, why was it only elephants that were affected?," Keith Lindsay, a conservation biologist, whose research is focused on elephants, told CNN. But as … Hundreds of elephants were found dead in Botswana in a mysterious mass-die off that has experts demanding urgent testing, according to a report. But cyanide remains in carcasses long after death, and there’s no evidence that animals eating the bodies of the dead elephants—hyenas, jackals, vultures—are dying as well. Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism has ruled out commonly used agro-chemicals or pesticides as the cause of death for the 281 elephants that died mysteriously since March 2020. The deaths, which took place over the course of three months, were first recorded in May and reported in early July. "We have ruled out poaching," he said. Now, the country has pointed to a naturally occurring toxin as a probable cause, according to a senior wildlife official. Mysterious death of over 300 elephants in Botswana solved The carcass of one of the many elephants which have died mysteriously in the Okavango Delta in Botswana National Park Rescue/AFP/Getty Botswana is home to a third of Africa's declining elephant population. Scientists worry that climate change will trigger the bacteria to produce more toxins as water temperatures rise and conditions become more favorable for the bacteria to grow. Many coronaviruses occur in animals, but there’s no evidence that COVID-19 is behind these elephant deaths, or that it even occurs in elephants, Kock says. Lindsay says so far the evidence presented isn't conclusive enough to rule out human involvement. The infectious disease, caused by a bacterium found in the soil, has killed elephants in Botswana in the past. Elephant deaths in Botswana a mystery According to The BBC, Botswana is worried about the "completely unprecedented" loss of hundreds of elephants since May due to unexplained reasons. It happened after the first wet year following a severe drought—conditions similar to those recently in Botswana—when the rodent population around South Africa’s famous park exploded, says Bengis, who was head of state veterinary services at Kruger at the time. August 11, 2020 by Kraig Becker One of the stories we’ve been following closely over the past month or so is the continuing mystery surrounding the death of more than 350 elephants in a remote corner of northwest Botswana near the Okavango Delta. Botswana is home to 130,000 African elephants -- more than any other country on the continent. What’s killing Botswana’s elephants? … He notes that another possibility could be viruses transmitted by arthropods such as ticks or mosquitoes that have never been diagnosed in wild elephants before. Over the past several months, hundreds of elephants have died in Botswana, some with these symptoms. More than 350 elephants have died from unknown causes, with … The Botswana government is testing samples from the dead elephants, but is yet to determine a cause of death. "If farmers put out poison, elephants of all ages would get that toxin and then they would go back to their waterholes. A second flight … A dead elephant found near Seronga, in the Okavango delta, Botswana. Six new elephant carcasses have been discovered in … Editorial note: Subsequent to our story below the Botswana Government has issued a brief update, which we provide as a footnote to this story. South African wildlife veterinarian Michael Kock, who worked on elephant anthrax cases in this region for the Botswana government in the 1990s, says scientists would need to take blood samples from the animals ideally within hours after they died. Cyanobacteria likely caused prehistoric mass elephant die-offs. If poisonings are to blame, authorities would likely want to work with communities that have suffered because elephants have damaged their land and crops. "We have had a report of 356 dead elephants in … If anthrax is killing the elephants, it would be a difficult problem to stamp out, he adds. "I don't think anybody can ever say never, but in this instance, the available evidence is showing that this was a natural occurrence," he said at a press conference. The country's Deputy Director of Wildlife and National Parks, Cyril Taolo said Monday that the government had all but ruled out human involvement in the deaths. Here's what we know … Poaching has been ruled out as the cause of death, because the carcasses were found intact Botswana's elephant population grew from 80,000 to 130,000 in the late 1990s Samples from the carcasses have been sent to labs around the world WARNING: This article contains images that … Then, too, it could be some combination of these causes—especially if environmental factors have played a part, such as this year’s late heavy rainfall after years of drought. The Okavango Delta, where the carcasses were found is home to 10% of the country's elephants. “Results from Canada and the U.S. will follow thereafter.”. Although a vaccine against anthrax is given routinely to livestock such as cattle, administering it to 18,000 elephants is unrealistic, Kock says. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/07/botswana-elephant-death-mystery.html, has been known to affect domestic and wild animals. They walk in circles and appear dizzy before suddenly dropping dead, sometimes face-first. © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- After months of concern and speculation, the Botswana government on Monday said that the sudden deaths of more than 330 elephants in northwestern Botswana … The official death toll stands at 330, with the fatalities occurring between late April and June. Botswana is investigating a growing number of unexplained deaths of elephants, having confirmed 275 had died, up from 154 two weeks ago, the government said … The government has launched an investigation because there is … “Disease is often an indicator of an underlying problem,” Verreynne says, adding that untangling what’s killing Botswana’s elephants “may assist in assessing the health of the ecosystem. Under the microscope, anthrax microbes have a distinctive shape, Kock says, but when a body begins to decay, other bacteria invade, which makes identification extremely challenging. Cyanobacteria are routinely found in water, but not all produce toxins. More than 350 elephants … August 11, 2020 by Kraig Becker One of the stories we’ve been following closely over the past month or so is the continuing mystery surrounding the death of more than 350 elephants in a … Over the past several months, hundreds of elephants have died in Botswana, some with these symptoms. Updated 12:48 PM ET, Mon September 21, 2020. Something similar could be happening with the elephants, veterinarians say. Botswana elephant graveyard: mystery death toll rises to 400 Posted on June 30, 2020 by Team Africa Geographic in the News Desk post series. Hundreds of elephants have died from unknown causes over the past few months in Botswana. 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. According to veterinarians and wildlife experts interviewed by National Geographic, as well as an examination of past elephant die-offs, possible causes include: ingestion of toxic bacteria in water, anthrax poisoning, poisoning by humans, viral infection from rodents, or a pathogenic microbe. Bacteria and viruses previously not deadly for specific species can evolve to become killers—as was the case with the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which likely originated in bats and so far has killed more than 500,000 people worldwide. ... Last year, Botswana scrapped an elephant … Moreover, with time rainfall typically washes out the bacteria, and the elephants have been dying in this region over several months. Perhaps the area’s recent abundant rains, after years of drought, set the stage for an outbreak, he says. At least 350 carcasses have been discovered … https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/science/elephants-dead-botswana.html Africa's overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent's elephants, has seen numbers grow to 130,000 from 80,000 in the late 1990s. The virus is excreted in the feces of rodents; elephants are at risk of eating contaminated grass. But temperatures in the region haven’t been exceptionally high lately, and the deaths are still relatively confined, making this theory less likely. “It is, however, important that there is a diagnosis made to make sure no foul play is at hand—that would be a problem for the population if it is not dealt with.”. “A catastrophic die-off of elephants is happing in northern Botswana, and no one knows why. No one knows why. Conservationists think that the death toll will be higher as "carcasses can be difficult to spot". Could local people who live close to elephants have poisoned them in retaliation for eating their crops, perhaps by lacing waterholes or vegetables such as cabbages? ... Last year, Botswana scrapped an elephant hunting ban it had in place in … But that explanation doesn't satisfy some conservationists. Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000. But Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks says it has eliminated anthrax as a possibility, though details about how remain scarce. Experts say that getting an accurate explanation requires sampling carcasses and the soil and water in their vicinity almost immediately after the elephants die. Hundreds of sudden elephant deaths in Botswana aren't just a loss for the ecosystem and global conservation efforts. All rights reserved. Hundreds of elephants die from mysterious causes in Botswana, More than 360 elephants die from mysterious causes in Botswana. To prevent the spores from spreading, it’s necessary to burn the carcasses as soon as possible—requiring tons of wood. But as an expert in elephants and their … "The one thing elephants do that other species don't is they go and seek crops in farmers' fields," said Lindsay. Hundreds of elephants have mysteriously dropped dead in Botswana in what is being described as a 'conservation disaster'. The official death toll stands at 330, with the fatalities occurring between late April and June. GABARONE, BOTSWANA - The mystery surrounding a mass die-off of elephants in Botswana is deepening after initial test results ruled out poisoning and anthrax. The mysterious death of hundreds of elephants in Botswana has left experts alarmed that there could be a dangerous neurotoxin spreading through one of Africa’s largest conservationist areas. Elephants could become infected when they breathe in or ingest contaminated soil, plants, or even water. “We expect additional results from one other lab in South Africa later this week,” Cyril Taolo, acting director of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks tells National Geographic. Six new elephant carcasses have been discovered in the African country, taking the … Last year, the country scrapped an elephant hunting ban it had in place since 2014, sparking international outcry. “The vegetation is lush and green after a much better rainfall year as compared to the drought of the previous years,” he says. There have been no reports of unusually large numbers of rodents in the areas where Botswana’s elephants have died, however. (The Department of Wildlife and National Parks has already burned some carcasses close to communities, Taolo says.) But elephants generally drink from the middle of water bodies—not the edges where cyanobacteria tend to accumulate. Cyanobacteria—blue-green algae—can be deadly, and many of the elephants have been found near waterholes or ponds. Results from samples taken from carcasses in north west Botswana … The cause of death had not yet been determined and the Botswana government has claimed that the possibilities the deaths were caused by poaching, poisoning by humans and anthrax have been ruled out. Hundreds of elephants were found dead in Botswana in a mysterious mass-die off that has experts demanding urgent testing, according to a report. Other poisons, such as sodium fluoroacetate, which is sometimes used as a pesticide and breaks down more quickly, could be suspects. By then, the hot sun has helped degrade the body, likely erasing key evidence, and scavenging animals may eat organs before they can be recovered for examination. It’s possible that the elephants in Botswana were sickened by something else and, perhaps feverish, craved water and died soon after drinking or trying to drink. 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