Scientists discovered several hundred elephants have mysteriously died-off in what they are calling a "conservation disaster" in Botswana.

Elephant graveyard

Experts have documented more than 350 deaths from unknown causes as images from the sky show the scattered corpses of the animals spread across the Okavango Delta and in the northern part of Botswana.

According to Daily Mail, scientists recorded the first elephant deaths in May when 169 of the animals suddenly died within a short span of each other in the muddy wildlife habitat.

Since mid-June, however, the number of deaths has doubled, and at least 70% of the deaths taking place near waterholes, locals said.

Scientists took test samples of the deceased elephants and are still weeks away from being thoroughly analyzed.

Botswana, a country in southern Africa and is considered to be home to one-third of the region's shrinking elephant population.

The National Park Rescue's Dr Niall McCann told reporters that after conducting aerial surveys, local conservationists initially reported the first cases of elephant deaths to the government in May. McCann noted in the three-hour flight the conservationists performed, they found 169 dead elephants.

The expert added that just a month afterwards, several investigations discovered new corpses that brought the total death toll to 350 elephants, as reported by BBC. McCann said the event was the first non-drought related incident to take the lives of so many elephants.

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What is the cause of death?

The government of Botswana ruled in May that the deaths were not caused by poaching as the animals' tusks were still intact. Officials, however, noted there were several other potential reasons the deaths could have resulted from.

McCann emphasized that only elephants were suffering casualties and not other animals in the same area, adding if poachers were responsible, other species would have been affected as well.

The expert also discounted anthrax poisoning, which was found to have killed more than 100 elephants in the region last year.

However, scientists are looking into possible poisoning, or disease-related deaths as most of the elephants were observed to be dying falling face-first. In contrast, others were seen going around in circles suggesting a neurological attack.

According to The Guardian, the acting director of the department of wildlife and national parks for Botswana, Dr Cyril Taolo, said they are aware of the deaths of the animals and have successfully confirmed 280 of the 350 reports and are continuing to work on the rest.

Taolo stated they have taken samples of the deceased animals and have started testing them while adding results could come over the next couple of weeks.

He noted that the coronavirus pandemic caused restrictions that are hampering their efforts to efficiently and immediately mediate the problem as transportation of the samples around the world is slowed down.

However, Taolo refused to answer questions on which laboratories they have sent the samples to after he revealed they have been able to get transportation going around the world.

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