Hundreds of elephants are dying in Botswana. The beginnings of another viral pandemic?
Northern Botswana has been a good home for elephants. However, an aerial survey on May 25 of this year told wildlife researchers that a mysterious illness had stricken them. They counted 196 carcasses of elephants across the landscape. There was no clue as to their death. Poaching and drought have been ruled out as causes of death. The elephants’ tusks were intact confirming that these deaths were not due to poaching.
The death toll has risen to 356 after a further survey on June 14. Researchers have said that the elephants looked confused and that they were wandering in circles before falling down onto their faces and dying.
The death toll now is probably 400. Anthrax has also been ruled out. Conservationists believe that it could be another zoonotic pathogen which is new to the elephant and therefore they have no immunity against it. Niall McCann, the director of conservation for the charity National Park Rescue wondered whether it was a “zoonotic spillover event” in reference to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He believes that it just might turn into another one. He wants that prospect ruled out through research and testing. He says that the whole environment, the vegetation, water and soil, the tissue of the carcass, the muscle, brain, spleen et cetera all need to be tested to get to the bottom of the matter.
Botswana’s government, after two months, announced that they had received test results from samples sent to a laboratory in Zimbabwe. They have not disclosed the results.
I have an update on the story from The Times newspaper. The current outcome is that the elephants succumbed to natural toxins. The authorities in Botswana have ruled out poaching because as mentioned the tasks were not removed from the elephants, and anthrax. However, they suggest that bacteria in stagnant water may be the cause. They don’t know the cause at present. On 22 September 2020, The Times reported that the deaths have been linked to neurotoxins produced by cyanobacteria which is blue-green algae, so said officials. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks announced that in all 330 had died which is an increase from 291 which they said had died in July. About one third of Africa’s total elephant population resides in Botswana.