More than 350 elephants have died mysteriously in northern Botswana in what scientists are calling a "conservation disaster." The first batch of a dozen elephant deaths was reported in the Okavango Delta region in early May with the tally going up to 169 by the end of the month. By mid-June, the number had more than doubled, with 70% of the carcasses found around waterholes.
"This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn't been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don't know of a die-off that has been this significant," said Dr Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue.
Elephants of both sexes have been dying and several other elephants have started falling sick, suggesting more will die in the coming weeks. The actual number of deaths is likely to be higher than reported as carcasses can be difficult to spot, according to conservationists.
The two main possibilities that are being taken into consideration are poisoning or an unknown pathogen. Natural anthrax poisoning, which was responsible for killing 100 elephants in Botswana last year, has also been ruled out.