There is a major mystery brewing in Africa, and it could have profound consequences for the wildlife population there. While the rest of the planet has been locked down by a global pandemic, Botswana has been witnessing a major reduction to its elephant population. So far, at least 350 of the animals have died of mysterious causes, baffling experts and confounding conservationists.
The unexplained death of the elephants began back in May. Most of those deaths have occurred in the Okavango Delta, a vast wetland that is created by seasonal rains on a yearly basis. In the beginning of this “conservation crisis” there were few people in the Delta, as tourism had already fallen off to nothing. Only park rangers and researchers ventured into area, mainly to keep tabs on animal populations and to watch for poachers. Flying above the Okavango, they began spotting dead elephants on the ground. At first it was a handful, but over time the number grew dramatically, signaling that something was very wrong.
Examining the bodies, the first thing that rangers noted was that the elephants had their tusks still intact, indicating that they hadn’t been killed by poachers. During the pandemic, the amount of poaching taking place in Africa has risen dramatically, but so far the Okavango has remained mostly well protected. Observers also noted that some of the elephants had topped over forward and onto their heads, possibly indicating that whatever killed them came on very quickly. That was an even more alarming revelation. Later, they would also spot living elephants walking in circles and behaving oddly, which has led some to believe that what ever this strange affliction is, it could be neurologically based.
Some of the elephant carcasses have now been examined by scientists and have had samples taken back to labs. They have ruled out an anthrax breakout, which was one of the early theories. There is still some belief that there could be poison in a watering hole or other source of water or it could be an unknown disease that is devastating the elephant population. Right now, there is a massive push underway to try to get to the bottom of this mystery, before even more of the pachyderms die off.
As someone who absolutely adores the wildlife of Africa and the amazing settings found there, this story has been heartbreaking to watch unfold. I’ve been following it for several weeks now, and we don’t seem any closer to understanding what is going on. Hopefully researchers can get to the bottom of this soon. Elephants are some of the most noble and beautiful creatures on the planet and we don’t have enough of them in the wild anymore as it is. Worse yet, if this is a virus of some kind and it can mutate to other animals, we could have an even bigger disaster on our hands. Lets hope that doesn’t happen.