Conservation Africa News – TOPLINE
More than 350 elephants have died from unknown causes in northern Botswana in what scientists are calling a “conservation disaster;” and the local government has not yet been able to test tissue samples due to logistical difficulties stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
Conservation Africa News – KEY FACTS
In early May, a dozen elephants died mysteriously in the famed Okavango Delta, the Botswana tourism ministry confirmed.
By mid-June, it was reported that upwards of 200 elephants had perished in the area, but the tusks of deceased elephants were not removed, which suggested poachers did not kill them.
On Wednesday, The Guardian reported more than 350 elephants have now died, with 70% of the deaths clustered around waterholes.
Elephants of all ages and both sexes have perished, and several live elephants appeared sickly, suggesting the death toll will rise.
The two main possibilities are poisoning or an unknown pathogen, according to The Guardian (Covid-19 has been mentioned as a possible cause but is considered unlikely).
African poachers have resorted to cyanide poisoning in the past, but scavenging animals reportedly do not seem to be dying around the carcasses.
Conservation Africa News – Critical Quote:
“This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant,” said Dr. Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue.
Conservation Africa News – Key Background:
Poachers have reduced Africa’s total elephant population in recent years. The total number of elephants on the continent dropped by an alarming 30% between 2007 and 2014, according to an 18-country aerial elephant count conducted by Elephants Without Borders. Botswana is home to more than 130,000 elephants, which represents approximately a third of Africa’s remaining savanna elephants. There are about 15,000 elephants in the Okavango Delta. In 2014, president Ian Khama instituted a ban on big-game hunting in Botswana. That ban was lifted in 2019, allowing sport hunters to kill elephants.
Conservation Africa News – Tangent:
Dr. Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana’s department of wildlife and national parks, told the Guardian that the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has impeded the government’s ability to get answers. “Covid-19 restrictions have not helped in the transportation of samples in the region and around the world,” he said. “We’re now beginning to emerge from that and that is why we are now in a position to send the samples to other laboratories.”
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10 Amazing African Elephant Facts
1) Herds of elephants are usually made up entirely of females and their young.
Most herds are led by one of the older females, called a matriarch, and young females will stay with the herd throughout their lives. Males, on the other hand, tend to leave the herd around adolescence and live a more solitary adult life.
2) Elephants really do have incredible memories.
Hence the saying “an elephant never forgets.” Researchers who work with elephants in Africa have shown they can remember places where their herd found food and water, even many years later. They also remember traumatic experiences and change their behaviour and movements to avoid similar situations.
3) The African elephant is one of the animal kingdom’s most intelligent creatures…
…alongside dolphins, chimpanzees and human beings. Research both in the wild and in elephant conservation projects have shown they have the capacity for complex social structures, humour, play, various emotions and even altruism (selflessly helping other animals in need). Most impressively of all, they are one of the few animals to recognise themselves in a mirror, a clear sign that elephants are to some degree self-aware.
4) The African elephant lives approximately 40-60 years
Females reach sexual maturity around 20 years and typically give birth every three to six years. This means a healthy female elephant can produce up to ten offspring during her life.
5) There are two different kinds of African elephant
The African bush elephant is the world’s largest land animal, growing up to four metres tall and weighing as much as 6,000kg. The African forest elephant, meanwhile, is smaller and only lives in west Africa. As a volunteer on our elephant conservation projects in Africa, you’ll focus entirely on the larger African bush elephant.
6) The elephant’s trunk is one of nature’s most remarkable tools
Growing up to seven metres in length, it is the longest animal snout in the world. Elephants famously use their trunks as a hose to cool themselves down and can suck up an incredible 45 litres of water a minute.
7) Elephants also use their trunks for many purposes besides splashing around.
They can breathe through it like a snorkel when swimming across deep water, sense vibrations from far-away herds through the ground, sniff out water from kilometres away, and reach leaves on branches up to six metres off the ground. Working with elephants in Africa, you’ll also discover their trunk has incredible fine motor control and can skillfully handle objects as small as a single blade of grass.
8) The African elephant differs from its Asian cousin in a number of ways
But the most instantly recognisable variation is the shape and size of their ears. The African elephant’s ears are larger and resemble a map of Africa whereas the smaller ears of an Asian elephant are said to look like a map of India.
9) If you look at the trunks of an African and an Asian elephant side by side, you’ll see another important difference
Whereas the Asian elephant has a single tip at the end of their trunk, the African elephant has two, which it uses to pick up and manipulate objects.
10) African elephants have enormous appetites
A fully grown bush elephant can consume around 140kg (300lbs) of food a day. To put that in context, chances are you eat about 1.5kg (3.3lbs) per day. At that rate, it would take you three months to get through an African elephant’s daily diet! As a herbivore, elephants only eat plants, which is why farmers often take extreme measures to keep elephants away from their crops.
Conservation Africa News – Further Reading:
Botswana lifts ban on elephant hunting (National Geographic)
Hundreds of elephants dead in mysterious mass die-off (The Guardian)
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