By Francinah Baaitse Mmana, The Voice
The government is set to fork out more money on private air transport as elephants in the Okavango Delta continue to die from a mysterious disease.
Since the beginning of April, 154 dead jumbos have been found near villages along the Delta.
This week, the department of Wildlife and National Parks had to seek extra funding from its parent ministry, Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism.
The request for cash was to help fund and renew the contracts of privately owned air transport, which have proved invaluable in the search for elephant carcasses over the last two months.
According to Maun Regional Wildlife Officer, Dimakatso Ntsebe (see The Big Interview, 5A), although he refused to share the amount, he confirmed the plea was successful.
“The Ministry has approved our request for more funds because we needed it to renew air transport contracts. The ones we had had come to an end,” he explained.
Nsthebe insists that even though their contracts had expired, they continue patrolling the area and searching for more elephant carcasses by air, foot, road and boat.
“We haven’t stopped and we never did; we are still very much in the field doing our investigations,” he maintained.
Since late March, elephant carcasses were discovered near villages along the Okavango Delta, including around Gudugwa, Seronga and Eretsha.
Initially the rangers suspected that the animals could be dying from Anthrax, which killed more than 100 elephants last year.
However, laboratory tests have since ruled out Anthrax as the current killer, leaving the department suspecting poisoning.
“The lab results have not yet confirmed anything,” noted Ntshebe, adding contracts up for renewal include 60 hours of helicopter use and 100 hours of fixed wing flight.
The department has been forced to rely on private air transport as its own fleet has been out of action for some time, undergoing mechanical maintenance.