Anxiety is mounting at the government enclave as a sudden increase in the number of elephant carcasses in the Okavango Delta panhandle continues.
This has also put the government under pressure as conservationists accuse it of lack of urgency to find solution to the unexplained deaths.
Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency in London was this week quoted as saying: “There is real concern regarding the delay in getting the samples to an accredited laboratory for testing in order to identify the problem – and then take measures to mitigate it.”
She is further quoted as saying: “The lack of urgency is of real concern and does not reflect the actions of a responsible custodian.
“There have been repeated offers of help from private stakeholders to facilitate urgent testing which appear to have fallen on deaf ears. And the increasing numbers are, frankly, shocking.”
Initially, Acting Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism Kelebaone Maselele had stated on 5th July that to date, 275 elephant carcasses have been verified against the 356 reported cases.
Speaking at a media briefing, five days later, another acting Permanent Secretary Dr Oduetse Koboto confirmed on 10th July that the figure of carcasses of dead elephants rose from 275 to 281. The increase was initially confirmed by senior veterinary officer at the Ministry Wave Kashweka and Mmadi Reuben, the principal veterinary officer still at the same ministry during a media tour in Seronga village.
Koboto said his ministry also received reports from laboratories in Zimbabwe which they were studying. He said the results of the report would only be made public after receiving other test results from other countries. Botswana has since sent samples to South Africa and Canada but it is understood that they have been delayed due to COVID-19 which has created a bottleneck.
Earlier on when addressing the media in Seronga, Acting Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Dr Cyril Taolo defended the delay in releasing the results.
He said this was lengthy process as they had to tests for other possible causes of deaths such as anthrax and poisoning at a local laboratory. He added anthrax and poisoning have since been ruled out as the possible causes of deaths.
“We have been in contact with our neighbours as we were keen to understand if they were experiencing the same. We have also been in touch with United Nations, Non-Governmental Organisations in Botswana to process samples to send outside the country,” said Taolo.