In a few months, at least 275 elephants died. For the time being, no one knows the causes. In the absence of tangible elements, there remain hypotheses.
The figures announced vary widely. Elephant without Borders (EWB), the NGO that exposed the suspicious death, said there were at least 350 corpses. For their part, the authorities are announcing 20% fewer deaths. According to Cyril Taolo, the director of the department of wildlife and parks, 275 carcasses have been found so far.
A repeating phenomenon
275 iconic animals, who died in a few weeks, that’s a lot. Especially since the phenomenon is repeated. Already in October 2019, a large-scale mortality had alerted the media. One hundred elephants in Botswana and 50 in neighboring Zimbabwe – where animals move freely – had been found dead. At the time, drought and the anthrax bacteria (anthrax) were said to be responsible.
Judging by the images, the carcasses of the animals are more or less recent. A dozen deaths had already been reported at the beginning of May (link in English) in this sector of the Okavango Delta. According to Elephant Without Borders, they would last three months. As if an insidious evil had struck animals for a long time.
A virus ?
Could a virus or bacteria be responsible for these new deaths? Curiously this time, the authorities reject, despite the absence of analysis, an infection linked to anthrax. A bacteria harmful to herbivores, linked to the putrefaction of bodies in nature, and which strongly resists heat and drought by being able to remain active in soil soil. The animal ingests it by browsing or searching the earth.
In 2019, we also pointed to the chronic overpopulation of elephants in the country. 135 000 pachyderms live in freedom in Botswana, that is to say the third of the population of African elephants. Botswana, which has become a sanctuary for pachyderms, has seen their population triple in about thirty years. Without abundant or even sufficient food, this could be fatal for the weakest individuals.
The poison ?
From the outset, poaching was ruled out, on the grounds that the animals retained their defenses, the only object of interest and of all lust.
However, poison, which has become the favorite weapon of poachers, appears to be a potential avenue. They regularly use cyanide. Not directly in the water, which would be accompanied by the deaths of other animals, but in the areas where the elephants graze. The behavior observed in certain pachyderms who seem disoriented, as victims of a neurotoxic, pleads for this hypothesis.
If this is not the work of poachers, there is finally the trail of the local population, whose litigation is known to oppose the pachyderms. Coexistence is far from peaceful. Farmers complain about the ransacking of their crops by animals in search of food. “Elephants move freely. They enter the fields, trample the crops and sometimes attack the inhabitants”, wrote the newspaper The world in 2015.
Poisoning could be the gesture of an exasperated population who wants to get rid of the problem. In fact, seven out of ten dead elephants were found near a water point, as if they were lured into a trap.
Elephant protection controversy
Samples were taken from the dead animals. The analyzes will, perhaps, allow us to know the reasons for these massive deaths. Be that as it may, it brings water to the mill for protection associations which fight against actions to regulate herds. Botswana has thus reinstated, since this year, elephant hunting, granting 272 permits for the year 2020. A decision decried, both for the method and for an unacknowledged necessity, according to the associations.
The first hunts have still not taken place, for lack of hunters. These wealthy clients stayed at home because of the coronavirus.