Over the past month and a half or so, we’ve been keeping a close eye on an ongoing mystery that has been unfolding in Botswana. Back in late June, it was revealed that more than 300 elephants had perished under mysterious circumstances, setting off alarms amongst conservationists throughout the world. Since then, there has been a lot of speculation as to what the cause of death for these animals could potentially be, but with few real answers. Now, we’re getting close to solving this case, as officials have revealed a bit more information.
When rangers and wildlife researchers launched an aerial survey of the Okavango Delta region in Botswana back in early June, they thought that it would be a fairly routine procedure. But when they began spotting numerous dead elephants on the ground, they quickly realized that something was seriously wrong. It took them awhile to organize a team that could investigate the situation on the ground, but eventually they were able to collect tissue samples from the bodies of the elephants. Those samples were sent off to labs in Zimbabwe, South Africa, the U.K., and the U.S. to be examined.
While it has taken some time to narrow down the cause of death, there were a number of possibilities that were quickly eliminated. For instance, it was clear that the elephants hadn’t been killed by poachers, as their tusks were left untouched. Anthrax was also quickly ruled out, as their were no traces of the material to be found in the area or on the creatures themselves. The fear was that it could be some new virus that was spreading through the elephant population, although that doesn’t seem like the case now wither.
So what exactly is the cause of so many elephant deaths in such a relatively small area? According to reports, it now seems that they were killed by “naturally occurring toxins.” The exact toxins have yet to be revealed, but speculation is that it is some kind of bacteria, possibly found within the water supply.
Last year, heavy rains brought severe flooding to the region for the first time in years. It is possible that those waters washed up some dormant bacteria that has been hiding int he soil for a long time. Considering that the mass die-off now seems to have stopped, it also seems likely that this toxin has gone dormant again. Whether or not it will reappear remains anyone’s guess.
The final—and more detailed—report is still being complied by the Botswana government, so expect to hear more about this down the line. While this has been a troublesome development, it does seem like we’re edging closer to finding some answers.