Something mysterious is happening to hundreds of elephants, leaving scientists baffled. In May of this year, a herd of 169 elephants was found dead in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Then by June, more than 350 dead elephants were found in northern Botswana. Scientists describe the mass die-off as a “conservation disaster”. Seventy percent of the elephant deaths happened around waterholes.

Reports say that elephants of all ages and sex were walking in circles before dying suddenly. Three months after the first recorded deaths, most of the surviving elephants have left the area. Elephant deaths are starting to occur in neighboring Zimbabwe as well. Twenty-two individuals have died, with scientists expecting the number to rise.

Elephant Deaths – A Natural Disaster?

Many theories trying to explain the mysterious deaths have popped up. However, none can give a solid explanation. According to experts, poisoning or poaching are unlikely to blame. Since most elephants still had their tusks intact. As of now, scientists are working on two leading theories on what caused these deaths—neurotoxins in algal blooms or a rodent virus known as EMC.

Neurotoxins

The lack of other species dying led scientists to initially rule out poison as the main cause of death. According to experts, elephants are more vulnerable to algal bloom toxins because they spend so much of their time in the water. If they aren’t bathing, they’re likely playing with the other members of their herd. The numerous olfactory receptors in an elephant’s trunk can potentially expose them to more toxins than other animals.

EMC

Though the elephants were close to water holes, this doesn’t mean that water is to blame. It’s possible that the animals were already sick or thirsty. The sudden growth of maize and sorghum may have attracted the herds of elephants. Including some rodents. Rodents tend to defecate or urinate anywhere, even on their food source. Elephants tend to eat the whole stalk of a piece of crop. Including the rodent feces.

EMC, or encephalomyocarditis, is a common cause of death for elephants in captivity. In fact, anecdotes of the animals just dropping dead on their tracks is a common characteristic of the disease.

Despite these theories, the cause still remains unclear. Scientific phenomenon or just plain woo-woo? You decide.

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