World News

Mysterious Elephant Deaths in Botswana

The South African country of Botswana is most well known for its diverse wildlife and, more specifically, its active elephant population. The government of Botswana has made considerable efforts to protect its wildlife from poachers, which has garnered international attention to the country. However, in recent months, there has been continuous tragedy afflicting the native elephants.

The Mass Death of Elephants

Starting in June this year, and suddenly slowing in September, at least 330 elephant carcasses were found in the wild with no signs of poachers or predators in the premises. Blood sample tests on each carcass revealed that the deaths were caused by some form of toxin of unknown origin, which had not only killed elephants but various other mammals in the region, including the neighboring country Zimbabwe, which found 20 dead elephants as of September. According to Botswana’s Environment Permanent Secretary Oduetse Koboto, “A lot of variables that we suspected had tested negative. We ruled out any virus, no bacteria. Pathogens [are] also negative. The only thing that we are waiting for is toxicology. What is evident is that we are now dealing with a poison.”

Botswana is known for its military anti-poaching unit, which makes use of military grade weaponry and training to prevent the poaching of its wildlife such as elephants and rhinoceros. These men are constantly on patrol and serve as the first line of defense against human threats on the wildlife of Botswana.


Initially, man-made toxins were considered the culprit, but these suspicions were soon dispelled, as a plausible explanation arose concerning the weather of the region and its relationship with the water levels. Veterinarian Dr. Mbatshi Mazwinduma suggested that since water sources were scarce during the time period in which the deaths happened, a naturally occurring toxin would be more concentrated in puddles and other sources of water, leading to more severe exposure to the toxin in a shorter amount of time.


The Culprit

A wild elephant takes a bath and drinks water in Botswana. This country is known for its wildlife conservation efforts.


Thankfully, further research and testing of the samples revealed that the elephants had been killed by a naturally occurring neurotoxin, produced by cyanobacteria which reside in the water. On the other hand, the death toll is rising still, and it is unclear why the toxin only affected the elephants in this specific region. There are still several questions that have not been answered, including the lack of a planning to prevent these deaths in the near future. The elephant population in Africa has gone down by a third over the last decade from droughts, poaching, and disease, and this is yet another urgent and unprecedented issue that may be detrimental to the survival of African elephants.

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