Worrying news has recently come to light: hundreds of elephants have been found dead in Botswana, and as yet, there is no clear cause of death. But as an expert in elephants and their conservation, I believe we can at least rule out a few possible answers.
Here’s what we do know: the first deaths were reported in March, but significant numbers were only recorded from May onwards. To date, it’s thought that the death toll stands at nearly 400 elephants of both sexes and all ages. Most of the deaths have occurred near the village of Seronga on the northern fringes of the Okavango Delta, a vast swampy inland region that hosts huge wildlife populations. Many of the carcasses have been found near to water.
Of those discovered so far, some lay on their knees and faces (rather than on their side), suggesting sudden death, although there are also reports of elephants looking disoriented and even walking in circles. The tusks of the dead elephants are still in place and, as yet, no other species have died under similar circumstances.
Botswana’s elephant politics
Botswana has long been a stronghold for Africa’s remaining 400,000 elephants, boasting a third of the continent’s population. While elephant numbers have widely declined in recent decades, largely due to poaching, Botswana’s population has grown.
However, this growth has been outpaced by the ever-increasing human population. With more elephants and more people, competition for space has escalated and increasingly, elephants and people find themselves at odds. Some communities see elephants as pests, as they feed on and trample crops, cause damage to infrastructure and threaten the lives of people and livestock. In return, people retaliate by killing and injuring offending elephants.
With large rural communities struggling to coexist with elephants, the issue has become highly politicised. In 2019, in a controversial move, president Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a ban on the hunting of elephants in Botswana, reasoning that hunting could both reduce their numbers and generate income for struggling rural communities. This, against a backdrop of rising poaching, suggests that times are changing for Botswana’s elephants.
This has sparked speculation about the recent deaths. However, given what we know, we can address some of the rumours.
Firstly, it seems unlikely that poachers are to blame, since the tusks of the dead elephants have not been removed. It’s estimated that illegal black-market ivory trade is responsible for the deaths of 20,000 elephants annually.
The elephants could have been killed by frustrated local people, typically by shooting or spearing. In this case however, the sheer number of dead elephants and the lack of reports of gunshot or spearing wounds, does not support this hypothesis.
Poisoning could be used instead, either by poachers or in retaliation by locals. A few years ago hundreds of elephants in Zimbabwe died after drinking from watering holes laced with cyanide, and the proximity of many of the recent deaths to water has given the idea some foundation.
However, in the event of poisoning, we would expect to see other species dying as well, either because they drank from the same poisoned water source or because they fed on the poisoned carcass of the elephant, and this has not been reported.
A natural cause of death?
If the evidence currently available doesn’t support foul play, that leads us to consider natural causes.
Drought can cause significant deaths. In 2009, a drought killed around 400 elephants in Amboseli, Kenya, a quarter of the local population. But drought tends to kill the very young and old, while the deaths recently reported in Botswana show elephants of all ages are affected. Moreover, rainfall in recent months has been near normal, ruling out the influence of drought.
Perhaps because wildlife disease has gained much attention in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the remaining possibility that has been widely suggested is disease. While COVID-19 itself is unlikely, elephants, like humans, are affected by a range of diseases.
For instance, over 100 were suspected to have died from an anthrax outbreak in Botswana in 2019. Those elephants that seemed disoriented and to be walking in circles might suggest a disease causing a neurological condition.
Still, the information currently available is inconclusive. The Botswana government has released a statement explaining that investigations are ongoing and that laboratories had been identified to process samples taken from the carcasses of dead elephants.
To avoid further speculation and prevent the deaths of more elephants in their last remaining stronghold, it’s vital that investigations are expedited so that the cause of death can be determined and suitable action taken.
Willie Breedt, the alleged bitcoin and cryptocurrency scammer, has been declared bankrupt.
News24 earlier reported around 2 000 investors in Breedt's defunct company, VaultAge Solutions (VS), stand to lose around R227 million after promises by Breedt to pay out their investments and growth were not honoured.
On Friday, one of the biggest investors, who entrusted R7.5 million to Breedt, Simon Dix from Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, successfully applied for a sequestration order against Breedt.
The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria granted the order to Dix.
In January, Breedt moved from Krugersdorp in Gauteng to the luxury Marina Martinique Estate in Aston Bay near Jeffreys Bay.
Two weeks ago, he hurriedly went into hiding after some irate investors, allegedly led by a colonel in the South African National Defence Force, called in the services of a group of "debt collectors" to find Breedt and recover their money from him.
He opened a case of intimidation with police in Jeffreys Bay just before disappearing.
While awaiting the verdict of the sequestration application by Dix, investigators managed to track Breedt down at a guest house in the Silver Lakes Estate in Pretoria.
It was also established that Breedt did not book into the guesthouse under his own name but that of a friend, possibly to try and hide his identity.
Shortly after the order was granted to Dix, the sheriff of the court, assisted by the police, the Hawks and a team of specialist cryptocurrency forensic investigators, raided a house in Silver Lakes where Breedt had allegedly been hiding since mid-June.
They served the court order on him while he was with a medical doctor friend who also resides in Silver Lakes.
During the raid, numerous electronic devices, among others a laptop and nano stick, were confiscated.
The nano stick is a secure storage device which might contain information of where the bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies Breedt traded might be.
Cryptocurrency is usually kept in a crypto wallet, to which only the owner has access.
The group of investors were earlier also granted a court order to freeze two South African bank accounts belonging to Breedt and VS.
Despite rumours that Breedt was arrested on Friday, News24 confirmed that this was not true.
In the meantime, the South African Reserve Bank has appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers to launch an investigation into VS and all agents who were involved in selling cryptocurrency on behalf of the company.
Vodacom M-Pesa has announced the expansion of its International Money Transfer service portfolio. Vodacom customers will now have the option and ability to easily transfer and receive funds from individuals across more than 200 countries worldwide.
This was said recently at an international day of family remittances event held in Dar es Salaam where stakeholders met to deliberate on the future of International Remittance post COVID 19.
Speaking during a panel discussion on the same, Assistant Manager, Oversight and Policy at Directorate of National Payment Systems from Bank of Tanzania (BOT) Albert Cezari said the national bank has increased limits on digital transactions and reviewed balances of mobile wallets in a bid to provide relief and ensure continuity of services as part of measures taken amidst COVID-19.
On his part, Vodacom Tanzania PLC Managing Director Mr. Hisham Hendi, said that international remittances make possible people and small businesses to stay connected irrespective of geography.
According to World Bank Figures, Tanzania recent remittances stood at $430 million, an increase of $25 million from 2019. The sum represents 0.8 percent of the country’s GDP.
Private hospitals in Zimbabwe are charging massive amounts of money - in foreign currency - for Covid-19 treatment.
With government hospitals ill-equipped, and with doctors and nurses on strike, the only hope available for those needing treatment is private care - something beyond the reach of many.
“Kindly be advised that all Covid patients are required to pay USD (American dollars) deposits, $60 (R1,080) for casualty, $3,000 (R54,000) for General Ward and $5,000 (R90,000) for ICU (Intensive Care) hospitalisation,” Obedience Ncube, credit controller for the Catholic run Mata Dei Hospital in Bulawayo, said in a statement.
A government worker earns the equivalent of US$30 (R540), which is about half the fee for a basic Covid-19 test at a private hospital.
Nurses this week said “no USD salaries, no work” as they vowed to stay away.
“The salaries we are currently earning are meagre. They amount to slave wages ... to those who have been subsidising our employer by going to work, mostly because you have an alternative source of income, we call upon you to reconsider this and withdraw your labour as well,” the Zimbabwe Nurses' Association (Zina) said.
The situation has been made worse with the skeleton staff at public health-care facilities testing positive for Covid-19, thereby being sent home for quarantine. Sixty-eight nurses (student and managers) tested positive in one day at the United Bulawayo Hospitals and they have since been sent home. They were tested after one patient died of the disease.
The government this month began hiring newly graduated nurses but some of them don’t want to report to work.
“I was assigned to a Covid-19 centre. I won’t go because my contract stipulates that I have three months to report for duty. This is like being deployed to the war front after training and above all there’s no money,” said a male nurse.
In Harare, The Avenues Clinic said it has put in place “elective admissions” whereby “emergency cases should have at least an RTD (resistance temperature detector) done”.
The hospital also said all admissions should provide proof of a Covid-19 negative test.
To date, Zimbabwe has recorded 605 confirmed cases, 166 recoveries and seven deaths out of 68,400 tests.