Scientists fear a mystery virus is behind the deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana – and it could spread to humans.
More than 350 elephants of varying ages and sex have died from unknown causes – with aerial photos showing their carcasses scattered across the Okavango Delta and other northern parts of the country.
Experts now think a novel elephant virus could be behind what has been dubbed a ‘conservation disaster’ amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
And some fear the pathogen – the name of which is not yet known – could spread to humans.
There has been no drought in the area and poaching and anthrax have both been ruled out as potential causes of death. But other poisons – such as cyanide – could be a possibility.
Scientists fear a mystery virus is behind the deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana (pictured) – and it could spread to humans
The carcasses are yet to be tested for pathogens or poison despite the first dying in early May
‘Yes, it is a conservation disaster – but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis.
‘The whole environment needs to be sampled — the vegetation, water and soil.’
Parts of the elephant carcasses have been sent to Zimbabwe as samples in a bid to learn more about what is killing the creatures.
Another set of test results will also come in from South Africa.
The first unusual deaths were reported in May when 169 elephants died in a short period at the Okavango Delta, a marshy and lush wildlife habitat.
That number had almost doubled by mid June, with 70 per cent of the deaths occurring around waterholes, according to local sources.
The country’s government has blamed covid-19 restrictions for the slow processing of the elephant’s tests and said the tests have been sent to another country for analysis
Some elephants look as if they have died within moments, falling flat on their faces, while others were reportedly walking around in circles before passing away
Locals say 70 per cent of the deaths are taking place near waterholes, which could offer a clue
Locals in the area had reported seeing the elephants walking in circles suggesting they have been neurologically impaired either by a pathogen or a poison.
Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana’s department of wildlife and national parks said: ‘We are aware of the elephants that are dying.
Out of the 350 animals we have confirmed 280 of those animals. We are still in the process of confirming the rest.’
An elephant’s sunken body is seen in the bushes, locals remarked that fewer vultures than would normally have been expected had interfered with the bodies
President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifted a five-year ban on big game hunting, however coronavirus has not allowed the season to commence this year
Dr McCann said the recent deaths were a ‘conservation disaster’ as the country fails to protect one of its most valuable assets
The lack of vultures on the carcasses also caused locals to suggest something outside of a natural phenomenon was causing the deaths.
Although Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, Botswana’s numbers are growing.
The southern African country is home to a third of the continent’s elephants and has grown a population of 80,000 to 130,000 because of well-managed reserves.
Eco-tourism is a large part of the country’s income, 130,000 elephants are thought to be living in the country
Locals have urged the government to guard the elephant’s bodies to stop tusks being removed by poachers
It is not known if the animal’s bodies pose a risk to humans, with urgent testing needed
An elephant’s body decomposes. It appears to have died a quick death falling from standing into an unnatural position
A bloated elephant carcass is seen in the Okavango Delta. 15,000 are believed to be in the wildlife habitat alone
There are about 15,000 elephants in the Okavango delta, and the pull of tourists to the country’s wildlife is thought to bring in around 12 per cent of its GDP.
However elephants are still under threat, farmers see them as a nuisance for destroying crops and poaching is still prevalent.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifted a five-year ban on big game hunting imposed by previous president Ian Khama.
But coronavirus travel restrictions meant that the hunting season did not take off this year.
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Modern-living communities now come with schools, GPs, shops and bars
On A fresh early autumn morning, Lakeview, just outside Keinton Mandeville deep in rural Somerset, appears to be the archetypal English village.
Houses, made of the local bluey-grey lias stone, surround the village green. There are allotments, orchards and wildflower meadows.
Stand still and the only sounds to be heard are the squeals of children playing in the primary school yard.
User-friendly: Tadworth Gardens in Epsom, Surrey, is a London Square village
Yet although Lakeview has the look of a centuries-old settlement, it is newly built. So why create a replica of a village when all around there is the real thing?
The answer is to satisfy demand. In times of crisis, people yearn for the simple life in the countryside. The pandemic has been just such a crisis.
According to Savills estate agents (savills.com), four in ten property owners now find a village location more appealing than before, with 71 per cent of younger buyers craving more outdoor space.
The problem is that although buyers may love the ‘idea’ of country life, the reality is often different. Traditional, chocolate-box cottages can be dusty and dark, with low ceilings and heating bills that are far from ‘olde worlde’.
Modern ‘oven-ready villages’ — such as Lakeview — make rural life more user-friendly.
‘We have the best of both worlds here,’ says Alison Gibbon, 61, who downsized with her husband to Lakeview having lived in Buckinghamshire.
‘The house, with its wood burner, has a country feel, yet it has high ceilings. It is energy-efficient and we don’t have to worry about the maintenance problems that can crop up in old properties.’
Although the development is in the middle of lush Somerset dairy farmland, it perfectly suits the lifestyle of Covid-19 city emigres who work part-time from home.
‘Castle Cary, on the main line to London, is only five miles away, so people can report to the office on an occasional basis,’ says Victoria Creber, Galion Homes sales and marketing director.
‘The houses have studies and we’re about to build a cafe with laptop space, so people can meet up while keeping one eye on their screens.’
Prices start at £85,000 for a third shared ownership and rise to £1.05 million for a five-bedroom home (lakeview-keinton.co.uk).
At Chilmington Lakes, outside Ashford in Kent, Hodson Developments claims to have built one of ‘only five or six official Garden Villages in the country’.
The site, which comprises 5,750 homes, is rather big to be a village, but Alan Hodson, the company CEO, stands by the claim. ‘We have all the amenities — shopping, doctors, schools, cafes and wine bars — that constitute a modern village,’ he says.
Only 600 of the 1,000 acres on this site are developed, the rest is landscaped for the residents’ enjoyment. Three, four and five-bedroom homes are priced from £399,995 to £750,000 (struttandparker.com).
The Mosaics development near Oxford — one of the Government’s ten flagship NHS Healthy New Towns — prioritises access to beautiful green spaces.
‘The houses all overlook gardens and the country park, where people meet up when they are out walking,’ says Mitchell Tredgett, 27, a regeneration manager in London. ‘It already has a villagey sense of community.’ Prices go from £599,950 to £1,250,000 (mosaicsoxford.co.uk).
Some developers go to considerable lengths to ensure their homes are an approximation to the local style. Tadworth Gardens in Surrey has been designed for London Square (londonsquare.co.uk) following the Local Distinctiveness Design Guide to the Surrey vernacular.
‘There is a green core of woodland at the centre, which is a haven for wildlife,’ says Mark Smith, development director at London Square. ‘The blocks of houses surrounding it follow a village-style layout.’
Although the A217 passing near by does nothing to add to the rural feel of Tadworth Gardens, the Surrey Hills, a renowned beauty spot, is a short drive away. Prices start from £299,950 for a one-bedroom flat.
Villages form a comforting backdrop to serials such as BBC Radio 4’s The Archers but how well do they work today?
‘Traditional amenities can be used for 21st-century activities,’ says Victoria Creber in Somerset.
‘At Lakeview, Pilates and short-mat bowling take place in the village hall, while on the green we plan to have an outdoor cinema. Village life lives on. Just not as we knew it.’
On the market… Modern living
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How the late Sir Terence Conran changed all our habitats
The late Sir Terence Conran – designer, furniture maker, entrepreneur, restaurateur — will be remembered for the chicken brick, the beanbag and for introducing the British to the duvet. The last of these changed our sex lives. Or so he claimed.
For Conran, who died last week aged 88, blankets and traditional bedmaking with hospital corners represented the stultifying world of the 1950s from which he aimed to liberate the nation.
French food and uncluttered Scandinavian design, combined with a hint of the exotic, were the way forward.
Ahead of its time: A 1970s Habitat advert. Sir Terence’s first store opened on London’s Fulham Road in 1964
His first Habitat store, which opened on London’s Fulham Road in 1964, stocked clean-lined furniture alongside colourful Persian kilim rugs, copper pans and crockery.
It was affordable, fashionable and fun, a mix that seemed revolutionary at the time. Some of Conran’s ideas on how to make each room in your home look better and work better may now seem basic or even obvious, but they are still effective and cost-conscious.
Conran was driven by a dislike of waste born from wartime rationing, and by the belief that everything in a home should be ‘economic, plain, simple and useful’.
Living room rules
Conran, who married four times, drew on his experience of starting over after a divorce to form his guidelines on making the most of a living room.
He advised that you should take everything out of the room, put it in the garden (this bit is optional) and assess the space.
If you need to redecorate, your choice of paint should be based on the light. A cooler white suits a sunny room, but a creamier white is better if the natural light is poor.
In his own homes, Conran often used a bright white in combination with Conran blue, a deep tone which was also his favourite shirt colour.
When replacing the furniture and other pieces, you should move back only those you either love or see as practical. You may be surprised how much you decide you can live without.
Conran would extol the delights of a ‘comfortable, well-used sofa with plump cushions’.
Sir Terence Conran died last week aged 88. He will be remembered for the chicken brick, the beanbag and for introducing the British to the duvet
But he also favoured a lounge chair with a footstool and was famously pictured, with his trademark cigar, relaxing in a Karuselli chair. This was created by Finnish designer Yrjö Kukkapuro in 1964 — a significant year for Conran.
The fibreglass shell of the chair is upholstered in leather, one reason it costs £5,736 in The Conran Shop (no longer owned by the family).
Wayfair, however, has a range of lounge chairs with footstools in sharp 1960s styles, including the Carmean (£199) and the Horatio (£339, wayfair.com).
The beanbag, another Conran contribution, is a suitably budget-priced form of seating. Dunelm’s Gallery Direct Malmo range of floor cushions (£65, dunelm.com) would add a touch of 1960s casual elegance to a room.
Conran was also responsible for popularising the paper lampshade, an inexpensive way to soften the glare from a central light that originated in Japan.
The Wilko Coolie paper shade costs £2 (wilko.com). In keeping with tradition, Habitat has a large range, including the £6 Boule Japonaise shade (habitat.co.uk).
Conran was big in low-priced flat-pack — or ‘knockdown’ — furniture before IKEA rose to global dominance.
But although a proponent of affordability, he was, in later life, an enthusiast for handmade Savoir beds. The No 1 Savoir bed starts at about £46,000 (savoirbeds.com).
This purchase would have followed plenty of homework, which Conran recommended, however much you planned to spend on a piece of furniture.
Nothing should stand between you and a good night’s sleep: ‘No distracting clutter, no overflowing wardrobes, no dust-catching knick-knacks.’
Today, we would call this the Marie Kondo approach but Conran was influenced by the 1930s minimalism of the Bauhaus school.
The duvet appealed to Conran’s love of simplicity, but so foreign was this item in 1964 that Habitat provided a guide to its use. The catalogue explained: ‘A few shakes and in 20 seconds the job is done. That’s how you make your bed.’
The ‘smart chicks’ of the era, as they were called in a magazine, who bought this bedding could not have imagined the sheer variety of duvets available 56 years later.
At John Lewis, you can now pay anything from £120 to £760 for a goosedown duvet or from £10 to £240 for a hollow-fibre filled version (johnlewis.com).
Cutting kitchen clutter
Conran championed French cuisine, promoting the recipes of the British writer Elizabeth David and the kitchen implements used by the French. Every picture of the kitchens in his own homes showed a pleasing line of copper pans (from £5 at johnlewis.com).
But despite his attachment to such cookware, Conran is best remembered for the chicken brick, which acts like a mini-steam oven, and the wok. Habitat continues to stock the chicken brick (£30) and it is popular among those who grew up with it as a family favourite.
Meanwhile, the wok, which once seemed equally exotic, is now a standard kitchen item. The Range stocks them from £12.99 to £29.99 (therange.co.uk).
A passion for food led Conran to found a restaurant empire that began with The Soup Kitchen in the 1950s — it boasted one of the first Gaggia coffee machines to be found in Britain — and included the swish Le Pont de la Tour at London’s Shad Thames. His exacting standards meant that the kitchens looked as good as the dining rooms.
His rules for kitchens in homes were equally rigorous. You should have on display only appliances that you use regularly.
Other appliances may not be worth keeping, especially if they are difficult to clean. Maintaining order should ensure that ‘daily chores seem less of an imposition’.
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‘Subdued’ Boris Johnson ‘worries about money’ after salary shrank to £150k
Boris Johnson‘s close friends and colleagues say the ‘subdued’ and ‘moody’ Prime Minister is worrying and complaining about money after his earnings shrank from over £350,000 a year down to £150,000.
Those in contact with Mr Johnson claim the embattled premier, usually jovial and ebullient, has ‘misery etched on his face’ as he struggles to cope with ever-growing political and personal pressures.
The Prime Minister is understood to detest being ‘at the helm in rough seas’ as his ‘longstanding tendency for dark moods’ is exacerbated by the twin problems of coronavirus and Brexit – which threaten to jeopardise his standing at the next General Election.
Meanwhile friends allege that he is worrying about money, having sacrificed his Daily Telegraph column (£275,000) and lucrative speaking engagements for his prime ministerial salary (£150,000).
Boris Johnson ‘s close friends and colleagues say the ‘subdued’ Prime Minister is complaining about money after his earnings shrank from over £350,000 a year down to £150,000
Mr Johnson is complaining about supporting four of his six children through university and coming out the other side of an expensive divorce from his ex-wife Marina Wheeler. His use of the flat he shares with fiancee Carrie Symonds above No 11 is taxed as a benefit in kind, while he also has to pay for food sent up from the Downing Street kitchen. All of this has left the ‘badly served’ Prime Minister in a foul mood, without a housekeeper and ‘worried about being able to afford a nanny’ for baby Wilfred, his friends claim
Though this is a tidy sum of money for most, Mr Johnson is complaining about supporting four of his six children through university and coming out the other side of an expensive divorce from his ex-wife Marina Wheeler.
His use of the flat he shares with fiancee Carrie Symonds, with whom he had newborn baby Wilfred this year, above No 11 is taxed as a benefit in kind, while he also has to pay for food sent up from the Downing Street kitchen.
The couple are even presented with a bill by the Government if they want to host friends at Mr Johnson’s Chequers country retreat.
All of this has left the ‘badly served’ Prime Minister in a foul mood, complaining about money and worrying about ‘being able to afford a nanny’ as he invests all his time and energy into governing, his friends have claimed.
One friend told The Times: ‘Boris, like other prime ministers, is very, very badly served. He doesn’t have a housekeeper – he has a single cleaner and they’re worried about being able to afford a nanny.
‘He’s stuck in the flat and Downing Street is not a nice place to live. It’s not like the Élysée or the White House where you can get away from it all because they’re so big.’
Senior Conservatives who meet regularly with the Prime Minister said the twin crises of coronavirus and Brexit have knocked his confidence and usual optimism.
Mr Johnson has faced criticism domestically and on the world stage for pursuing ‘madman’ legislation that would defy the Withdrawal Agreement brokered with the EU last year, breaking international law in the process.
He was forced on Wednesday to agree to table an amendment to the Internal Market Bill, giving MPs a vote before the Government can use the powers related to Northern Ireland which would breach the treaty.
The top human rights expert and wife of actor George Clooney announced she was quitting the high profile post over Mr Johnson’s intention to bring in new legislation that would override part of the Withdrawal Agreement he signed last year.
She said the UK’s actions threatened ‘to embolden autocratic regimes that violate international law with devastating consequences all over the world’.
Mrs Clooney said she was ‘disappointed’ to have to resign because ‘I have always been proud of the UK’s reputation as a champion of the international legal order, and of the culture of fair play for which it is known’.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is trying to balance coronavirus ‘hawks’ in favour of a second national lockdown with ‘doves’ – including Chancellor Rishi Sunak – who understand that Britain cannot afford another economic shutdown.
Last night Mr Johnson was spooked by Government scientists with warnings of hundreds of daily coronavirus deaths ‘within weeks’ as they told the terrified Prime Minister: ‘There is no alternative to a second national lockdown’.
His use of the flat he shares with fiancee Carrie Symonds above No 11 is taxed as a benefit in kind, while he also has to pay for food sent up from the Downing Street kitchen
He is now threatening to ‘intensify’ coronavirus restrictions as early as Tuesday as he blames the British public for the rise in cases – despite his repeated pleas for people to get back to offices and eat out in a bid to resuscitate Britain’s flailing economy.
The Prime Minister is looking to ditch his Rule of Six and introduce fortnight-long ‘circuit breakers’ nationwide for six months, following claims that it was ‘inevitable’ that a second wave would hit the country last night.
The new approach to get the UK through winter would see it alternate periods of stricter measures, including bans on all social contact between households and shutting down hospitality and leisure venues like bars and restaurants, with intervals of relaxation. Schools will be shut as a ‘last resort’, a Whitehall source claimed.
It is understood that the new ‘circuit break’ shutdown could be announced via television press conference on Tuesday, in a move reminiscent of the Government’s behaviour during the peak of the pandemic.
Officials, including England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, are thought to be arguing for tough restrictions as panic within official circles grows.
But the measures are thought to have been met with protests from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has warned against introducing new blanket restrictions by pointing to huge damage already inflicted to the economy.
Government sources claim that Mr Sunak gave ‘sombre warnings’ to the Prime Minister, while Mr Johnson bizarrely shrugged off the ‘grim’ economic forecasts – claiming that ‘he was confident it will all be OK in the end’.
Business leaders last night echoed the Chancellor’s concerns and warned that a second lockdown would cripple the economy, with the British Chambers of Commerce saying: ‘Uncertainty and speculation around future national restrictions will sap business and consumer confidence at a delicate moment for the economy’.
‘This is all weighing very heavily on him. I think you can see it even in some of his public appearances – the sort of misery etched on his face. He doesn’t seem to be enjoying being at the helm in rough seas,’ a Tory said.
‘He just seemed subdued. He was engaged but he certainly wasn’t as lively as you’d expect,’ said another. ‘You can speculate – does that go back to the illness? Is it the weight of responsibility or is it maybe just a recognition that he’s not always very well briefed on things? Most likely it’s some combination of all those.’
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