In what looked like the Africa’s worst killing spree, unidentified poachers reportedly killed 90 elephants in Botswana for their ivory.
The deaths were discovered in an aerial survey started in July by the charity Elephants Without Borders, who said they were “counting dead elephants” each day.
Most of the carcasses discovered had their tusks hacked off, and some had their trunks missing. Many had been killed as they approached pools of water to drink.
Mike Chase, the director of EWB, said the finds were “fresh and recent”.
But Botswana’s government said the statistics were “false and misleading”, adding that EWB had counted 53 carcasses in their survey and that most of the animals had died of “natural causes.”
Mr Chase said the “scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I have seen or read about in Africa to date”, adding that it coincided with Botswana’s rangers being disarmed last year.
He said a similar survey in 2014 had discovered just nine carcasses.
Botswana is rated the world’ largest with a population of around 130,000 elephants.
It is believed poachers may have moved into the country as conditions become more difficult in the areas they previously operated in.
Botswanan President Mokgweetsi Masisi has this year cracked down on the use of military weapons in anti-poacher operations, responding to criticism that authorities were too quick to open fire on suspected poachers.
His government stressed that the increase in poaching was not due to this change, saying the withdrawal “has not created any vacuum in anti-poaching operations”.
It said: “The government of Botswana wishes to condemn in the strongest terms possible attempts by individuals or groups who give a false impression that they love Botswana wildlife more than citizens of Botswana.”
Mr Chase said poachers had been targeting old bull elephants with large tusks.