Independent scientists must probe mysterious elephant deaths in Botswana: expert
Dr. Niall McCann, the director of the UK-based conservation charity National Park Rescue, has described the deaths of hundreds of elephants as unprecedented and catarsophic.
The carcasses of more than 400 elephants have been discovered north of the Okavango Delta in the past two months, but nobody knows what’s killing them.
It could be a pathogen, poison, or natural toxin.
McCann says independent wildlife forensics are needed to thoroughly test various samples from the carcasses, including blood tissue, muscle tissue, stomach contents, and brain matter.
He says samples of the environment will also have be collected, including the water and soil in the area.
An independent team needs to come in, thoroughly sample the area, transport those samples back to the labs, and do the tests themselves.Dr Niall McCann, Director and founder - National Park Rescue
Widely-spread pictures of the elephant carcases have triggered an international outcry from conservation groups which have accused Botswana authorities of dragging their heels.
The unexplained deaths need to be urgently investigated because whatever is killing the elephants could pose a risk for human safety, if it's a disease or poison, says McCann.
He adds that the mass deaths may have a negative impact on the country's economy given that elephants are the second-largest contributors to GDP in Botswana, through the country's eco-tourism.
It's way beyond just a local issue, this is an issue of international concern.Dr Niall McCann, Director and founder - National Park Rescue
In the region of 400 elephants have died already in the Okavango Delta region, near the Caprivi Strip in Nambia, from unknown causes. This is pretty staggering.Dr Niall McCann, Director and founder - National Park Rescue
Normally, when you come across a die-off event, it's very easy to tell what's happened; anthrax, or cyanide or whatever. But at the moment, we just do not know [what's happened].Dr Niall McCann, Director and founder - National Park Rescue
None of the elephants are showing signs of wounds. They all seem to be dying of some kind of neuronal impairment.Dr Niall McCann, Director and founder - National Park Rescue
Those that are dying are often dying very quickly, falling flat on their faces as if suddenly they've collapsed.Dr Niall McCann, Director and founder - National Park Rescue
Others have been witnessed alive but wandering around in a confused state with motor impairments, indicating that something is happening to their nervous system.Dr Niall McCann, Director and founder - National Park Rescue
McCann hasn't ruled out the possibility that poachers could be behind die-off.
At the same time, cyanide, the most commonly used poison in the region, has been ruled out because no scavengers - such as vultures, jackals, and hyenas - are dying from feeding off the carcasses.
Listen to the discussion for more analysis:
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