Unexplained Elephant Deaths in Botswana Appear to Have Ceased

While we continue to await word on the exact cause of the death for more than 250 elephants in Botswana over the past month, there is at least a little good news to share on that front. Researchers and conservationists say that they are now halfway through conducting a survey of the region and thus far they haven’t found any more dead carcasses. That’s good news for the immediate future, although obviously major questions remain.

Alarms went up last month when aerial surveys of a region northwest of the famed Okavango Delta revealed dozens of dead elephants on the ground. Conservationists were perplexed as to the cause of the deaths, as poaching was quickly ruled out due to the fact the ivory tusks were still in place on the creatures. More worrying was the fact that due to the positioning of the bodies, it seemed as if the elephant’s demise came quickly.

It took a few more weeks before research teams could be deployed to the area, with scientists taking samples from the bodies for testing in labs. Those samples have been sent to Zimbabwe, South Africa, the U.K., and the U.S. for review, but thus far there are no concrete answers. Officials in Botswana say they are close to revealing the answer, but speculation has included such causes as anthrax breakout or poisoning. There are even some fears that it could be a new and unusual virus spreading amongst the pachyderm population.

The latest news from Botswanan officials indicate that while they are still searching for answers, it seems that at least for now, the mysterious deaths have stopped. The government there says that it hopes to wrap up its survey this week and has now examined 281 bodies in the attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery. Thankfully, that number doesn’t appear to have climbed any higher in recent days, although conservationists and wildlife experts remain cautious and vigilant.

Hopefully we’ll get more concrete answers in the near future as to what has happened there. For now though, it’s good to know that things have stabilized and it doesn’t appear that there is a widespread infection sweeping through the Okavango elephant population. Stay tuned for more, as I’ll post further updates when there is news worth sharing.

Kraig Becker