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Mysterious elephant deaths haunt Okavango Delta

DYING IN NUMBERS: Jumbos have been hard hit by illness in recent years

A second wave of mysterious elephant deaths has hit the Okavango Delta, with government confirming that at least 39 jumbos in the area have succumbed to an unknown illness since the start of the year.

Following a two-month delay to respond to media enquiries, the Ministry Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism finally issued a statement this week.

“Preliminary results have ruled out anthrax and bacterial infections as the cause of death and further laboratory analysis is ongoing,” the statement explains in part.

In January, suspicions of a possible surge in elephant fatalities were reported, with Regional Wildlife Office confirming 11 deaths at the time in Mombo area in the Moremi Game Reserve.

A team of wildlife experts was flown into the Delta and a report prepared roughly three days later.

Nonetheless, it was only this Wednesday, following weeks of pestering by the media, that the Ministry saw fit to comment, issuing a health warning to the public regarding consumption of the carcasses.

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“The public is advised not to harvest or consume meat from elephants that are found dead and are further encouraged to report any carcass to the nearest police station, DWNP office, Botswana Defence Force camps and veterinary offices.

“Extensive field and air investigations by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and the Okavango Research Institute have not uncovered any mortality of other wildlife species within the Mombo area,” continues the Ministry statement.

Last year, between April and June, around 330 elephants were found dead in the Delta. Amid much confusion, it was eventually determined the beasts died from waterbourne natural toxins, which are common during the dry season when water levels drop in the Delta.

Last year’s deaths came hot-on-the-heels of another incident of elephant mortality, this time in Chobe National Park in 2019. Then, over 100 elephants died, some due to anthrax while others succumbed to drought effects.

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