Wildlife charities have expressed concern at the unexplained deaths of more than 270 elephants across Botswana.

The creatures have suddenly collapsed into heaps on the ground since the start of May in the Okavango Panhandle region.

The government is yet to explain what has happened to the animals but has ruled out poaching, as all the carcasses have remained intact.

But National Park Rescue is concerned at what it believes is slow progress.

Mark Hiley, co-founder of National Park Rescue, said today: "Elephants began dying in huge numbers in early May and the government would normally respond within days to an event of this scale.

Authorities are investigating the deaths of more than 270 elephants

"Yet here we are, months later, with no testing completed and with no more information than we had at the start."

Mass elephant deaths on this scale are almost unprecedented, certainly in Botswana. A potential correlation between these and the coronavirus pandemic is yet to be ruled out.

"You're not going to be able to get the elephants to do social-distancing, and you're not going to be able to inoculate them," Chris Thouless, head of research at Save the Elephants, said.

Charities recognise the government is faced with an unprecedented situation

But the professional doesn't believe authorities are dragging their feet.

He continued: "This is pretty remote country, hearing about the carcasses, getting in there, taking a whole range of samples, knowing how and where to get them from, ... that is a pretty difficult task."

Mmadi Reuben, principal veterinary officer in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, said: "A government investigating team has been on the ground since the first cases were reported. Botswana responded swiftly.

"We sent samples [following tests] to Zimbabwe and South Africa to test for other known pathogens or a novel pathogen."

The coronavirus crisis had delayed some samples leaving the country.

Botswana is home to around 130,000 elephants a third of Africa's total, making it a magnet for wildlife lovers.