Botswana, home to a third of Africa‘s elephant population, says it does not know why the animals are dying. The BBC reports that the results of laboratory tests will not be known until weeks to come.
Some 350 elephants have been reported dead in the Okavango Delta, the swampy inland delta in the north of the country. But conservationist Dr. Niall McCann told the BBC that Botswana’s government was warned of the deaths as far back as May.
“They [conservationists] spotted 169 [dead elephants] in a three-hour flight,” Dr. McCann reportedly said.
“To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was extraordinary. A month later, further investigations identified many more carcasses, bringing the total to over 350. This is totally unprecedented in terms of numbers of elephants dying in a single event unrelated to drought,” he added.
Botswana’s government does not believe the elephants are dying due to poaching since tusks are still found on the carcasses of the animals.
Africa’s elephant population is fast declining and Botswana’s lax wildlife rules have been singled out for widespread condemnation.
In February, Botswana announced that it will be holding its first major auction of licenses for trophy elephant hunters. Interested bidders were expected to put down a refundable deposit of $18,300.
Last year, President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s government lifted the blanket ban placed in 2014 to protect the decline in the population of wild animals. The lifting of the hunting ban was met with mixed reactions with praises from local communities and derision from conservationists.
Masisi’s government strongly defended the decision to lift the ban, observing that the elephant population would not be in jeopardy.