The spotting of 356 elephant carcasses in the Okavango Delta in Botswana has conservationists perplexed and distressed. Elephant carcasses were discovered during two fly-overs by Elephants Without Borders, a Botswana-based conservation group, in May and June. Researchers also saw some elephants behaving abnormally, walking in circles, dragging their hind legs or appearing lethargic.
Botswana is home to about a third of the world’s remaining African bush elephant population
There were no signs that tusks had been removed, so poaching has been ruled out. Samples taken from the elephants and the soil and water were collected in May and shipped to domestic labs, but no results have been published yet. Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks is collaborating with labs in Canada, South Africa, and Zimbabwe to determine what happened to these elephants and whether it was serious enough to warrant human intervention.
Some conservationists remain deeply concerned, whereas others view this as a natural consequence of Botswana’s growing elephant population, which in 2016 numbered about 130,000 individuals. This is about a third of the world’s remaining African bush elephant population.
Regardless of the circumstances impacting these elephants, the number of deaths does not rise to the level of a conservation crisis, says Dr. Chris Thouless, head of research at the Kenya-based conservation group Save the Elephants. The number of deaths is a fraction of the elephant population of Botswana’s Okavango Delta area, and populations can rebound relatively quickly from such setbacks.