Botswana said a new pathogen may be responsible for the death of hundreds of elephants in the country with the world’s biggest population of the animals.
Results from samples taken from carcasses in north west Botswana are back from laboratories they were sent to in Zimbabwe and will be matched with results coming from South African laboratories and an announcement made next week, Acting Permanent Secretary in the Environment Ministry, Oduetse Koboto said at a press conference. So far 281 carcasses have been found, according to the government. A non-profit organization has said it found as many as 356 carcasses.
Referring to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Niall McCann, director of conservation for the charity National Park Rescue, said: “We are currently living with a zoonotic spillover event.
The absolute worst case is that this could turn into another one. It is incredibly important to rule out the prospect of this crossing over into people.
“Yes, it is a conservation disaster – but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis.
Although the number of deaths so far represents a fraction of the estimated 130,000 elephants in Botswana, there are fears more could die if authorities cannot establish the cause soon.
Chris Foggin, from Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, which conducted the tests on elephant samples from Botswana, said only that country’s government could share the findings.
The Botswana wildlife department said the government contacted neighbours Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Zambia but they had not seen similar elephant deaths.
Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow from 80,000 in the late 1990s.