• KiAfriqa

Mysterious Virus kills Hundreds of Elephants in Botswana.

Wildlife experts are investigating the mysterious deaths of hundreds of elephants in the southern African country of Botswana, amid fears it could "cross over into people.

Hundreds of elephants have died in Botswana (Image: REUTERS)

Botswana Officials have verified 281 elephant carcasses since the first bodies were discovered two months ago but conservationists fear the actual death toll could be closer to 400.  The deaths have been concentrated in an area of more than 3,000 square miles in Botswana's Okavango Delta which is home to about 18,000 elephants.

Poaching and anthrax infection have been ruled as possible causes since there has been no drought, another mass killer of elephants.

But researchers have reported seeing elephants looking confused, wandering in circles and falling onto their faces before dying.

And conservationists fear an unknown pathogen - a novel elephant virus - could be behind the mass deaths.

Referring to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Niall McCann, director of conservation for the charity National Park Rescue, said: "We are currently living with a zoonotic spillover event.

"The absolute worst case is that this could turn into another one. It is incredibly important to rule out the prospect of this crossing over into people.

"Yes, it is a conservation disaster - but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis.

"The whole environment needs to be sampled — the vegetation, water and soil. All the tissue of the carcass, the muscle, blood, brain, spleen."

Test results from samples sent to Zimbabwe to determine the cause of death of hundreds of elephants are being studied but experts are waiting for more results from South Africa next week before sharing findings with the public.

Oduetse Kaboto, a senior official in the environment and tourism ministry, said: "We have to wait for another set of results and reconcile the two to see if they are saying the same thing before we come to a definitive conclusion.

"We are hoping the second set of results will come in next week and that's when we should be able to communicate to the public the cause of deaths."

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