Hundreds of elephants have been found dead of unknown cause in Botswana in what's being called a "conservation disaster." Some 169 carcasses were spotted in the Okavango Delta—home to 15,000 of the country's 135,000 elephants—during a single three-hour flight in early May, reports the BBC. The number of dead elephants had more than doubled by mid-June. Some 356 elephants of all ages, with ivory tusks intact, have now been found dead along with emaciated elephants that look on the verge of death, per Bloomberg and the Guardian. "Some of them have fallen straight on their face, indicating they died very quickly," Niall McCann of National Park Rescue tells the Guardian. Locals note 70% of the deaths occurred around waterholes. Anthrax has been ruled out, but samples from the animals have yet to be tested.
"Repeated offers of help from private stakeholders to facilitate urgent testing … appear to have fallen on deaf ears," says Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigation Agency. McCann sees this as "extraordinary" considering "we've got a mass die-off of elephants near human habitation at a time when wildlife disease is very much at the forefront of everyone's minds." Cyril Taolo, acting director of Botswana's wildlife department, blames the coronavirus for delays in the movement of samples, but "we're now beginning to emerge from that," he tells the Guardian. Botswana's environment ministry says samples will be sent to three labs in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Canada. Results are expected within a couple of weeks. (Elephant hunting only just resumed.)