Tag Archives: Botswana

Botswana investigates elephants mysterious deaths

Preliminary laboratory tests explaining the reason for hundreds of mysterious elephant deaths in Botswana point to a naturally occurring toxin as a probable cause, a senior wildlife official said.

The government has sent samples to laboratories in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the United States for tests.

It was highly unlikely that an infectious disease was behind the shocking deaths of at least 281 elephants, added Cyril Taolo, acting director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Officials had been investigating to establish the cause of death more than two months after the first carcasses were spotted in the Okavango Panhandle region.

Initial investigations appeared to rule out common causes like poaching and anthrax.

We have received more test results from other countries including the United States, and so far the results show that it’s highly unlikely that the cause could be an infectious pathogen,” Taolo said.

Our main attention … is now on investigating broader environmental factors such as naturally produced toxins from bacteria that are found in the environment, such as water bodies.”

As of last week it had received results from bacterial detection and toxicology tests in Botswana, histopathology tests in South Africa, and bacterial detection and histopathology tests in Zimbabwe.

Taolo said toxicology results were expected from South Africa soon.

It’s a game of elimination where we start testing the most common causes and then move on to the less common ones. We then have to verify and corroborate these results from different laboratory tests. We are hoping to provide a more concrete update tomorrow,” he continued.

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 to around 130,000.

The elephant deaths have concerned the conservationists, who fear deaths could spiral out of control if a cause cannot be established rapidly.

Massive death of Botswana elephants

More than 350 elephants in Botswana have mysteriously died since May, in a phenomenon that some scientists have charachterised as a “conservation disaster”. No full investigation has been conducted so far, no explanation provided, however there have been some tests on a number of carcasses, which have exclused some of contageious deseases, typical for the speaces, but the cause of death remains unexplained.

The elephants — which massively died in the swampy Okavango Delta — still had their tusks intact, suggesting that the ivory poaching was not behind it. A flight over the delta in May by researchers with Elephants Without Borders, a wildlife conservation organization, first spotted 169 carcasses, that number increased rapidly to 356 in June, when the conservationists took another flight over the area.

Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation, and Tourism is aware of the problme, and the relevant department has verified 275 of those elephant carcasses, according to a statement from the African Wildlife Foundation.

Already, officials have ruled out anthrax, the carcasses tested negative for that bacterium, said Scott Schlossberg, a research consultant for Elephants Without Borders.

The bacterium that causes anthrax disease, called Bacillus anthracis, occurs naturally in soils, where it can stay inactive as spores for decades, scientists reported in 2019 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Grazing animals can ingest anthrax-tainted soils along with plants or while drinking from watering holes.

This isn’t the first elephant die-off in the region; more than 100 elephants died over a two-month period in the fall of 2019 in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, primarily driven by drought. Some of those deaths may have been due to anthrax, as the elephants would have ingested soil (possibly contaminated with anthrax spores) while grazing around dried-up watering holes and across wilted grasslands.

Botswana repatriates citizens

Botswana will undertake efforts to repatriate citizens stranded abroad due to coronavirus travel bans, with more than 100 travellers to arrive on June 3 from Ethiopia, President Mokgweetsi Masisi said on Saturday, May 30.

In order to alleviate the plight of our citizens abroad who have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, mostly students and those affected by the global travel bans, we have decided to assist them with financial assistance to either cope where they are or to return them home,” Masisi said in a speech, transmitted by TV channels.

Masisi said the government has already helped 400 people to return from South Africa and neighbouring countries.

Botswana medics have established 35 coronavirus cases, one of patients died.

However in spite of the relatively low contamination cases rate the economy has been severely hit, with real gross domestic product forecast to contract by 13% in 2020.

Botswana ended a 48-day lockdown a week ago, allowing businesses and schools to reopen under strict conditions but its borders are still closed with only returning citizens and essential goods allowed in.

At present the toursitic industry operators reamin trapped between clients requesting their money back, and accommodation in safari lodges reluctant to return deposits. This has caused serious cash flow problems.

The proposal of a voucher or credit for the future trips do not convene many clients,
explainging they found themselves in a financially fragile situaiton, and they are not sure they will be able to afford the luxury trip to Botswana natural resorts in the future.

As a result the Botswana communities has been suffering a serious economic set back caused by absence of toursits, who were the major consumers of local services of guides, drivers, restaurants, traditional crafts, and souvenirs, and other endeavours related to the touristic industry infrastructure.

Africa’s tourism industry in general has been hard hit by coronavirus lockdowns. Overnight, hotel bookings were canceled, safaris postponed and cultural tours abandoned. The operators are struggling to stay afloat in hope the tourists will come back soon.

Botswana: six rhinos killed by poachers

In Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the virus shut down tourism. Botswana’s security forces in April shot and killed five suspected poachers in two incidents. In northwest South Africa, at least nine rhinos have been killed since the virus lockdown. All the poaching took place in what were previously tourism areas that were safe for animals to roam.

“It’s a bloody calamity. It’s an absolute crisis,” Map Ives, founder of Rhino Conservation Botswana, a nonprofit organization, said of poaching across the continent.

“It’s a helpless feeling,” said Tate, a 35-year former Marine and the founder of VetPaw, a group of American military veterans who fight poachers in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa.

Ryan Tate is supposed to be in South Africa right now helping to fight off poachers who hack horns off rhinos and kill elephants for their ivory tusks.

But since the country announced a national lockdown in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Tate is stuck in the U.S. He can’t join his team out in South Africa’s wilderness and can’t meet with private donors in the U.S. for his anti-poaching nonprofit organization, which is seeing donations dry up.

“Poaching doesn’t stop just because there’s a virus — if anything, it picks up,” he said.

Although poaching is not uncommon in Africa, poachers during the coronavirus pandemic have encroached on land they wouldn’t normally visit and killed rhinos in tourism hot spots now devoid of visitors and safari guides.

The unprecedented rate of poaching in 2019 prompted the government to warn that the rhino population could be wiped out in the southern African country by 2021.

Thousands of rhinos that once roamed Africa and Asia have been culled by poaching and habitat loss. Very few are found outside national parks and reserves.

Poaching is fuelled by a seemingly insatiable demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is coveted as a traditional medicine or an aphrodisiac.

Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same substance as in human nails.

Botswana’s neighbour South Africa, home to 80% of the world’s remaining rhinos and the epicentre of rhino poaching, lost 594 rhinos to poachers last year.
More than 7,100 animals have been slaughtered over the past decade.

COVID19: Botswana Parliament in quarantine

All Botswana’s Members of parliament including President Mokgweetsi Masisi will be quarantined for a fortnight and tested for the coronavirus, after a health worker screening lawmakers became infected.

The health worker had checked the temperatures of some of the lawmakers on April 8 during a special sitting of parliament, which was called to debate a proposal by Masisi to extend a state of emergency to six months.

Health Minister Lemogang Kwape told parliamentarians on April 9 that the infected employee is one of seven new confirmed cases that brought the total of established cases to 13.

The health employée had not shown any symptoms but had just taken a routine test. Unfortunately, the result came late on April 8 after she was on duty at yesterday’s parliament session, Kwape explained to the Assembly, before lawmakers endorsed Masisi’s proposal to extend the state of emergency.

Director of Public Health Malaki Tshipayagae instructed all the lawmakers to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

Masisi is himself a member of parliament and already had to self-isolate in March after a visit to Namibia.

The Members of the parliament have been given a possibility to self-isolate at home or be taken to facilities designated by the government.

Separately, regulations published in the government gazette on April 9 banned businesses to fire staff during the state of emergency.

Trade unions estimate that more than 20,000 workers have been laid off or placed on unpaid leave over the global coronavirus pandemic.

Botswana rare vultures massively poisoned

More than 500 endangered vultures died after ingesting three dead elephants whose carcasses were poisoned by poachers, the Botswana government said in a statement.

The 537 vultures and two tawny eagles were found dead in one of the country’s protected wildlife management areas (WMA) in the eastern Central District. Among the animals killed were 468 white-backed vultures, 28 hooded vultures, 17 white-headed vultures, 14 lappet-faced vultures and 10 cape vultures.

The government suspects poachers who killed three elephants had laced their carcasses with poison.

Conservationists have called the incident one of the largest documented killings of the threatened species.

The government said the mass poisoning was “dangerous and harmful to the environment” and it urged members of the public to “desist from such illegal acts”.

The area has reportedly been decontaminated and samples taken for a forensic laboratory analysis.

Vultures circling a carcass can be seen from miles away, so poachers often poison them to prevent their activity being tracked.

Most of the birds were white-backed vultures, which are classified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Vulture black

Botswana lifts hunting suspension

Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism announced that “the government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension.”

The country’s new president, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, recently received in Kasane for five southern African heads of state whose countries are home to roughly half the world’s remaining elephant population, with an aim to forge a common strategy for elephant conservation in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). The strategy does not explicitly mention hunting, but it paves the way for justifying it.

Under the pretext of ‘consumptive use’ – the idea that an animal will only be conserved if it is hunted or its parts are traded for cash – hunting was defended at the Kasane Conference as a silver bullet for elephant conservation. Speakers and ministers expounded myths that the world – and most African Elephant range states – have largely abandoned it.

Kitso Mokaila, Botswana’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, claimed that elephant population has surged to 160,000, from 55,000 in 1991, claiming  that there are ‘too many elephants.’

In 1983, Botswana’s elephant population numbered between 70,000 and 75,000. It had certainly not dropped to 55,000 by 1991.

The minister may have done well to consult the scientific reports of Northern Botswana, which estimates the population to be roughly 126,114. However the number doesn’t differ from the 2014 figure, indicating the population is stable, but not growing. 

A second myth: Botswana has exceeded its ‘carrying capacity’ of 54,000 elephants. This has become an expedient cover under which to justify elephant trophy hunting and even culling. The entire concept of ‘carrying capacity’ is arbitrary without relevance for vast, unfenced wilderness landscapes that adapt and maintain integrity without human intervention.

“Much of the research community, and many managers, accept that ecosystem structure and function are not about elephant numbers but instead about elephant distribution across a landscape and in relation to plant communities” scholars Phyllis Lee, Keith Lindsay and Katarzyna Nowak explain.

A large number of scientists wrote in Ambio that they did not see “any ecological reason to artificially change the number of elephants in Chobe National Park, either through culling or opening new dry season ranges.

What matters is not “carrying capacity” but dispersion and concentration. A high density of elephants in one area may prove to result in some ‘undesirable’ vegetation transformation, which is a good reason for keeping migratory corridors open without fences.

Even where apparent vegetation transformation occurs, however, the ecological benefits of keeping elephants as keystone herbivores should never be underestimated. They deposit seeds up to 90 km away from areas in which they feed, regenerating vegetation elsewhere and creating corridors for other animals to use.

A myth of hunting to solve the “population explosion problem” is ignoring that the population is stable – and potentially in decline. The truth is that hunting only decimates the big tuskers, reducing genetic diversity.

Trophy hunting is typically rationalised on the grounds that it only eliminates old bulls that are ‘surplus’ to herd requirements. Such small-scale elimination is, however, incapable of controlling an ‘exploding’ population, especially given that Botswana’s annual export quota was only ever between 420 and 800 elephants in the decade preceding the moratorium.

Moreover, there is no such thing as ‘surplus’ bull elephants. Dr Michelle Henley writes that “in the past, bulls over 50 years of age were considered redundant but more recent studies have found that bulls do not reach their sexual prime until they are over 45 years old.”

She also notes that older bulls, because they have protracted musth cycles, “often suppress the musth cycles of younger bulls, thereby maintaining social stability and lowering younger bulls’ aggression towards other species such as rhinoceros.

They are thus critical for ensuring functional herd sociology, transferring knowledge and disciplining delinquent behaviour among juvenile males.

Hunting is a fundamentally unsustainable, as the incentives are loaded in favour of over-consumption and rule-breaking.

Anyone who knows anything about hunting cannot honestly claim that a hunter, tracking a trophy bull with his client, upon finding a young bull carrying large tusks, would try to dissuade his client from shooting it”, a Botswana veteran Mike Gunn said.

Hunting quotas tend to be arbitrarily determined by the hunters themselves and over-exploited, which violates the ‘maximum sustainable yield’ principle.

Hunting will therefore never solve a population problem, but it does destroy herd sociology and ensures that big tuskers are being shot out.

In this respect, hunters are aiding the poachers – undermining, not supporting, conservation.

Bringing back hunting will solve human and elephant conflict (HEC) and increase benefits to local communities has proven to be wrong.

The fact is that hunting would only solve HEC if it were able to keep elephants within protected areas and reduce the scarcity of resources, such as water, especially during prolonged drought.

Part of the argument is that hunting generates revenue that accrues directly to local communities and thus disincentives both poaching and the killing of errant crop-raiders. Ironically, however, hunting is rooted in a colonial anthropology that castigated indigenous people groups as ‘poachers’ and colonialists as ‘hunter-conservationists’.