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Not poisoned, not poached: Mystery surrounds death of 154 elephants in Botswana

Not poisoned, not poached: Mystery surrounds death of 154 elephants in Botswana
The deaths of over 150 elephants is being investigated in Botswana, southern Africa, where an official investigation has so far ruled out poaching and poisoning as factors in the huge mammals’ mysterious demise.

The elephants’ carcasses were found intact, indicating they were not killed by ivory-thieving poachers, over a span of two months and the cause of death was neither a man-made poison nor anthrax – known to poison elephants who consumed spores after digging into the soil for sustenance during severe drought.

“We are still awaiting results on the exact cause of death,” Regional Wildlife Coordinator Dimakatso Ntshebe told Reuters of the ongoing inquiry. 

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Farmers are known to take issue with the continent’s dwindling population of elephants, as the enormous animals trample their fields, destroying their crops. 

Even though the African elephant is steadily going extinct due to persistent poaching, Botswana is home to almost a third of the species and their numbers there are rising. There are approximately 150,000 elephants in the country, while just 20 years ago there were 80,000.

The boost in elephant numbers on reserves led to an increase in complaints of destroyed crops and homes, prompting President Mokgweetsi Masisi to lift a five-year ban on big game hunting in May 2019 – despite outcry from animal conservationists. The 2020 hunting season has yet to get off the ground though, as the Covid-19 pandemic severely limited air travel around the world and hunters from many coronavirus-hit countries simply could not enter Botswana.

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Meanwhile the country’s fight against poachers continues. Botswana made world headlines earlier this year for returning to the practice of ‘dehorning’ rhinos – essentially, cutting the animals’ horns off, so they won’t be hunted for them. 
“Both white rhino and black rhinos have been severely affected, necessitating the ... relocation of highly endangered black rhinos (and) intensification of surveillance,” the government said.

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