Have you ever heard of it? It is a place somewhere between legend and reality. Yes, because it seems that the oldest elephants of a herd instinctively head for this undefined place to die far from their family, their clan.
It is a behaviour that undoubtedly fascinates and that suggests to the most attentive minds endless theories about elephant consciousness, intelligence and sensitivity.
However, there is one thing. To date, there has been no trace of these mystical places. Only coincidences had been found, areas with a high concentration of skeletons, too weak to establish any certainty.
Today, on the other hand, if you will allow me the simile, we may have discovered one of these mysterious burial sites, although in this case it has nothing to do with the instinct of these majestic mammals.
(Okavango Delta from space)
350 dead elephants in the Okavango Delta
We are talking about the Okavango Delta, the second largest inland river delta (i.e. that does not meet the sea) in the world: one of the most complex and biodiverse ecosystems on the planet.
Up to 350 dead adult elephants have been found here since the summer of 2020.
An alarming number, but one that should be compared to the more than 130 thousand specimens of African elephant that live in the area and the approximately 450 thousand on the African continent.
The news, however, is that it was not poaching that killed them, but something undefined and as yet intangible.
The Canadians in search of oil
In the same area where these herbivores graze, halfway between Namibia and Botswana, ReconAfrica - a Canadian oil and gas company - has leased more than 34 thousand square kilometres of land to build a new oil field.
The Canadian company's plan is to explore the land to create a facility that can (potentially) produce 60 to 120 billion barrels.
Scientists, environmentalists and communities say no.
Although we are only in the early stages of analysing and studying the area, there are already loud choruses of those who oppose the project, those who already know what the problems could be (because they are studying it) and the consequences for animals, people and the biodiversity of the Delta if they decide to proceed in this direction.
For example, Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation and president of Oilwatch Africa, argues that from the construction of new roads to explore the site to the actual new drilling sites, catastrophic conditions could be created for the entire Delta ecosystem. In particular, the fear is that this huge deposit could deplete the already scarce water resources and lead to ecological disturbances in the natural area.
On the other hand, the first effects can already be observed: The vibrations of the exploratory drilling disturb and disorient the elephants, especially when accompanied by their young, and take them far away from the original migration routes of the herds, close to the villages and the more than 200,000 people living in the delta, creating a difficult coexistence between humans and elephants.
We can only hope that the "elephant graveyard" of this metaphor remains only a legend and never comes true. For the sake of the pachyderms and for our sake.