Botswana has refuted media reports that nearly 100 elephants had been killed in the country for ivory.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Thato Y. Raphaka, said “at no point in the last months or recently were 87 or 90 elephants killed in one incident in any place in Botswana".
On Tuesday, AFP reported that the dead animals had been spotted near a popular wildlife sanctuary in the Okavango Delta.
“Ninety elephant carcasses have been discovered in Botswana with their tusks hacked off,” AFP quoted non-profit organisation Elephants Without Borders (EWB) as saying.
“Most of the animals killed were large bulls carrying heavy tusks,” EWB said.
The report added that the grim discovery had been made over several weeks during an aerial survey by scientists from EWB and Botswana's Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
But Mr Raphaka said that investigations had revealed that the tuskers had died of natural causes.
“A verification mission between July and August established that the majority were not poached but rather died from natural causes and retaliatory killings as a result of human and wildlife conflicts,” Mr Raphaka said.
The government also denied that the withdrawal of weapons from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks had disrupted the "effectiveness and operations" of their anti-poaching units.
Wildlife remains a national heritage in Botswana and boasts of being the home to the largest elephant populations in Africa, more than 130,000, according to the Great Elephant Census.