As authorities in Botswana continue to investigate the mysterious deaths of hundreds of elephants in the Okavango Delta,
one NGO said on Friday (July 3), the event could have a "devastating" impact on the species.
The dead elephants were first spotted months ago, with poaching ruled out as the cause of death, as the carcasses were found still intact.
Founder and director of Elephants for Africa Dr Kate Evans.
"The word mysterious has been used, and I guess because it's unknown. It's not unheard of to have die-off of elephants and, of course, other species. And one of the likely candidates at first was anthrax, which is common in Botswana. But it's the wrong time of year for that, so that has been ruled out. But we did have an outbreak in November of last year. So that was ruled out because we've since had good rains, and I'm sure the avenues being investigated are likely to be a bacterial infection or indeed a virus."
Since the late 1990s Botswana has seen its elephant numbers steadily increase.
But a report prepared for the government by a separate conservation organisation said aerial surveys showed that elephants of all ages appeared to be dying.
Evans says the deaths are particularly concerning for other areas with smaller elephant numbers.
''I mean we only have less than 400,000 elephants throughout the African continent, which is vast. And so if this was a disease, or virus, or a bacterial outbreak, that was to spread, as I mentioned earlier, if a smaller, less genetically diverse population were affected, then it could have devastating consequences for the elephant population, and therefore the economy and the environment of the host countries as well."
Dr Evans says the deaths have come at a difficult time, with charities and conservation efforts hit hard by limited resources and funding cuts.