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Words Matter: Possible Cause for Botswana Elephant Deaths Found

Summary: Over the past couple of months, many elephant deaths have been reported and photographed in Botswana. The country is known to have the largest elephant population and we should be concerned that these deaths may impact that. Botswana believes that a natural toxin could be the cause for the heartbreaking deaths of hundreds of elephants.


- elephant population dwindles at 415,000

-281 elephant deaths are confirmed out of the 356 reported

-infectious disease, Anthrax, poaching ruled out

- natural toxin could be the cause

Elephants are a declining population: African elephants are listed as vulnerable, and Asian elephants are listed as endangered. A hundred years ago, the population boasted at 3-5 million, but now dwindles at a mere 415,000. The primary factors threatening elephants are habitat destruction and poaching, but a recent event in Botswana has possible mysterious causes.

Botswana has an elephant population of 150,000, more than any other single country in the world. The first bodies were found in the Okavango Panhandle region, and 281 elephants are currently confirmed dead, but 356 have been reported.

We are yet to find a certain cause for the large number of deaths in the past months. Samples were sent to Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and the United States for testing. The possibility of an infectious disease was considered, but tests determine it unlikely to be responsible for such a large number of elephant deaths. Anthrax, a bacterial disease, was debunked, as well as poaching since the elephants’ tusks were untouched.

When centering on commonalities among the deaths, all elephants show behaviors of weakness, such as limping and sluggish movements. Another constant is the general location in Botswana, which brings into question if an environmental aspect could be the cause of death.

The recent hypothesis identifies the cause as a natural toxin, which is a poison from a plant or animal. Toxins are produced in microorganisms and can cause disease if present in a body other than the toxin’s producer. In other words, it is likely that the cause is not directly related to humans, although there may be indirect effects on species producing the toxin. It is also likely that the toxins are produced from bacteria in common water sources that the elephants share.

Though the deaths are a relative percentage of the whole elephant population, the possibility of a toxin could increase that number and become an issue for the population’s survival. This would have an impact on the entire ecosystem, as all biological relations relate to one another. Right now, officials are doing all they can to find a cause with absolute certainty to take measures to save the population.


Written by: Sonal Mohan

Edited by: Janelle Tengco, Shaili Singh

Graphic by: Kianna Bolante

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