Wildlife authorities in Botswana, the country with the world’s biggest elephant population, are seeking an explanation for the death of 56 of the animals in the northwest of the country.
Over the past week 12 carcasses were found, adding to the 44 found in a week in March, the environment ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. Tusks hadn’t been removed, indicating the elephants weren’t the victims of poachers, the department said.
The animals died in the Seronga and Eretsha areas and surveillance operations are now underway to trace any more victims. “Testing of samples should be out by Friday,” said Dimakatso Ntshebe, a regional wildlife director. “The testing is for anthrax first and if that is ruled out, we will send the samples to South African labs for further testing.”
Elephants have become a political issue in the southern African nation, with President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifting a hunting ban and saying more needed to be done to stop the 135,000 elephants in the country from damaging crops and occasionally trampling villagers.
“It is very unlikely that the elephants have been poisoned,” said Ntshebe. “This has never happened here, and this season there has been less conflict between farmers and elephants due to abundant rains.”
The good rains mean they have their own source of water and food in the wetlands and don’t need to stray into villages and fields, he said.