Botswana has the largest elephant population in the world. But these animals are far from safe in their habitat. Now, mysteriously, more than a hundred elephants have disappeared in Botswana. Poaching and the aging of the animals have been ruled out issues, leaving researchers puzzled.
Local authorities reported that at least 154 elephants have died in the last two months in the swamps of this African country. Carcasses were found intact, indicating that the animals were not killed by hunters. There was also no evidence of poisoning by the anthrax bacteria, very common in that region.
"We are still seeing elephants dying in Panavale Okavango. We are also seeing elephants that show they are sick and are about to die," said Wildlife Officer Dikamatso Ntshebe.
Elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Shutterstock
Elephants mysteriously disappear in Africa
The Wildlife Department soon began removing the prey from the carcasses so that possible hunters would not approach the bodies. The team also directed local residents not to consume the meat of the dead animals as they are still investigating the possibility of a disease.
Tissue samples from the dead elephants have been taken to South Africa, where an analysis will be done. But, the results may take a while to be released, even more so because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Conflicts with human beings
Botswana has over 130,000 elephants living on the savannah, which represents approximately 1/3 of the continent's elephant population. But, there is a complex relationship with the animals in this country.
A family of elephants walk the grassy banks of Namibia, where they risk their lives every day to get food. (Image: CHRISTINE DELL'AMORE / NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)
Elephants function as an important source of income, tourism, and even national pride. However, these animals are getting closer and closer to humans, resulting in the destruction of farmland and even causing deaths.
In May 2019 the country suspended its ban on elephant hunting as incidents with humans are increasingly common. So the country sold 60 licenses to hunt elephants, but the season would start in April, being hampered by the pandemic. Soon, there was a travel restriction and everything got more complicated.
In recent years wildlife has been threatened in this African country due to poaching in the search for ivory. Research released in 2019 pointed out that the number of elephant carcasses found on the savannah grew 600% between 2014 and 2018.
Elephant hunting has been suspended for years
The hunting of elephants was suspended for 5 years in Botswana, came into force in 2014 and lasted until last year. But, this ended up contributing to the already mentioned conflicts between humans and animals.
Prior to that, from 2007 to 2014 the elephant population had dropped by 30 percent, according to the Pan-African Borderless Elephant Census released in 2016.
Even though hunting does not significantly reduce the number of elephants, even so the return of the practice has generated anger among some people. Besides, in neighboring countries it costs an average of 45 thousand dollars for a hunt of this kind.