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Mysterious disease kills elephants in the delta

Mysterious disease kills elephants in the delta
LYING DEAD: Elephant carcass

In the last week, over 50 dead elephants have been found in the Okavango Delta, with the Wildlife and National Parks department yet to establish the cause of death.

The regional wildlife manager in Maun, Dimakatso Ntshebe has ruled out food and water poisoning as a possible cause.

“Water and food poisoning cannot be the cause of deaths as well because otherwise other animals could have been affected. The elephants drink from the same water source as others and eat the same food so if there was any contamination of some sort, all animals would have had the same problem. Predators and scavengers that have been eating the carcasses would have also fallen sick and died,” he told Okavango Voice.

Instead, Ntshebe suspects the elephants could have died from anthrax, an infectious disease which claimed the lives of more than 100 jumbos last year.

“We cannot rule out anthrax. But as I have mentioned, we are awaiting laboratory results to confirm the kind of disease that is killing these animals,” he stressed.

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Anthrax is one of the fatal animal fever disease that often attacks elephants and can be spread through contaminated water or soil.

However, Ntshebe explained that outbreaks historically occur during the dry season: July to December.

“If the current deaths are due to anthrax, then it would have come early! Usually it comes during dry season when animals are weak.”

The first laboratory results are expected this Friday (22 May). On Tuesday, more samples were sent to the lab with Ntshebe further disclosing wildlife officers plan on capturing live elephants to run tests on them.

“We are moving towards that direction, we have not yet started the exercise, but we do need to run tests on live animals as well, not just the carcasses,” he said.

With the cause of death still unknown, the general public has been warned not to touch the dead elephants or eat their meat.

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Last year, the outbreak of anthrax led to the death of both elephants and hippos. This time only elephants have been affected, adding further intrigue to the cause of death.

Due to the severe 2019 drought that hit the whole country, including North West district where the Okavango Delta is located, many elephants died. The Wildlife department then confirmed that the mortality was due to anthrax bacteria spore that is usually ingested through soil during grazing.

Since last Thursday, Ntshebe’s team reported unusually high elephant mortality in areas around Seronga, Eretsha and Gunotsoga. All carcasses were found in tact, thus ruling out the possibility of poachers being involved.

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