The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism says 275 elephant carcasses have been verified against the 356 reported cases as the mystery of elephant deaths in the Okavango Panhandle deepens.
The ministry said in a press release yesterday that investigations into the unexplained elephant deaths, which started in march, are still ongoing. It said it had identified three Laboratories in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Canada to process the samples taken from the dead elephants, which will be interpreted against field veterinary assessments of clinically ill and dead elephants.
The release stressed the tusks are being removed from the dead elephants and carcasses near human settlements continue to be destroyed. According to the release, ongoing investigations have revealed no evidence of poaching so far. The number of elephants mysteriously found dead in the Okavango Panhandle continues to grow, with most discovered 40 km from Seronga catchment villages, the epicentre of all discoveries so far. Botswana Safari News has quoted Regional wildlife Coordinator, Dimakatso Ntshebe saying the deaths are caused by an unknown pathogen.
“It’s doubtful the elephants have been poisoned. Because if it’s poisoning it would affect other species in the area, not just elephants.
The poison would kill scavengers like jackals and others which are feeding on carcasses. However, we are not ruling anything out until the results are in,’ he said.
As the search for more carcasses continues, the DWNP has reiterated its plea to the public not to eat the meat as it could potentially pose a health hazard.
This is a developing story.
Suspected poacher killed as Botswana battles rampant rhino deaths
Meantime, Botswana soldiers last week shot and killed a suspected rhino poacher during a gunfight in the vast Okavango Delta, where poaching has reached unprecedented levels. The southern African nation’s anti-poaching unit has killed 19 suspects since 2019, as the government employs a shoot-to-kill policy.
Botswana’s military said a rhino poaching suspect was killed last Wednesday during an exchange of fire in the thickets of the Okavango Delta. Botswana Defense Force’s Major Mabikwa Mabikwa said poachers are using sophisticated weapons of war and communication equipment. He says the army is up to the challenge. President Mokgweetsi Masisi recently said the military will not hesitate to shoot poachers.
“Poachers are sufficiently radicalised to kill, so they are dangerous,” said Masisi. “We put an army in place to defend this country, so any intruder is an enemy. And unfortunately, as with any war, there are casualties.”
The army says it has killed 19 suspected rhinoceros poachers since last year, while one soldier lost his life during an exchange in April. Poachers mostly target rhino, with 56 of the endangered animals killed in the past two years. The government recently decided to dehorn all the rhinos and relocate them to secure, private locations. Department of Wildlife and National Parks Principal Veterinary Officer, Mmadi Reuben said in addition to dehorning, anti-poaching efforts would be intensified.
“We expect to see the results. It (dehorning) is meant to disincentive,” said Reuben. “This does not in any way replace our anti-poaching strategies that we put in place.
In fact, we up our anti-poaching operations and augment them further to ensure that any perpetrators that come in, they are brought to book.”
The Okavango Delta is wet and challenging to navigate, with some areas inaccessible by road. Most poachers cross over from neighbouring countries.