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Botswana gets first test results on elephant deaths

Botswana gets first test results on elephant deaths
epa08524241 Aerial view of the carcass of one of the approximately 350 elephants that have been found dead for unknown reasons in the Okavango Delta area, near the town of Maun, northern Botswana, 03 July 2020. This unprecedented death toll for the pachyderms does not appear to be related to poaching, as their coveted ivory tusks are still attached to the corpses. Authorities are performing various tests to determine the cause of death. EPA-EFE/STR

GABORONE, July 10 (Reuters) - Botswana said on Friday it had received test results from samples sent to Zimbabwe to determine the cause of death of hundreds of elephants but is waiting for more results from South Africa next week before sharing findings with the public.

Wildlife officials are trying to determine what is killing the elephants about two months after the first bodies were discovered. They have ruled out poaching and anthrax among possible causes.

Officials told reporters near the Okavango Delta on Thursday that they had now verified 281 elephant carcasses and that the deaths were concentrated in an area of 8,000 square km that is home to about 18,000 elephants.

“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,” Oduetse Kaboto, a senior official in the environment and tourism ministry, said in a televised briefing.

“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.”

Although the number of deaths so far represents a fraction of the estimated 130,000 elephants in Botswana, there are fears more could die if authorities cannot establish the cause soon.

Chris Foggin, from Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, which conducted the tests on elephant samples from Botswana, said only that country’s government could share the findings.

The Botswana wildlife department has said the government contacted neighbours Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Zambia but they had not seen similar elephant deaths.

Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow from 80,000 in the late 1990s. (Reporting by Brian Benza, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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