8 elephants killed by cyanide

HARARE - At least eight elephants have been killed by suspected poachers using cyanide at Hwange National Park, the businessdaily has learnt.

The latest development has brought the number of elephants killed by cyanide in the country to over 300 in the last four years.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) confirmed the death of the elephants that included a mother and her young calf.

“We are suspecting cyanide poising because we found a bucket of poison in Hwange National Park a week before the carcasses were discovered,” ZimParks acting spokesperson Simukai Nyasha told the businessdaily yesterday.

The first known case of elephant poisoning in Zimbabwe was a single massacre of over 100 elephants in Hwange National Park in 2013.

Since then it has become a common means of poaching — not only in Hwange but throughout the country’s protected areas, including the Zambezi Valley and Gonarezhou National Park.

Nyasha said the use of the deadly cyanide by poachers not only poses a challenge to animals but also to the environment.

“Cyanide can wipe the entire animals and we are working with the surrounding communities to fight poaching and preserve our environment,” he added.

Research has shown that in addition to killing elephants, predators and scavengers such as lions, hyenas, jackals and vultures endure a slow and agonising death after eating poisoned flesh, while other animals such as antelope and zebra have been killed by drinking from contaminated buckets, waterholes and salt licks.

Zimbabwe has one of Africa’s biggest surviving elephant populations, since herds in neighbouring regions of Eastern and Central Africa have been severely damaged by poaching, and half of the country’s estimated 80 000 elephants are thought to live in Hwange.

Conservationists say the African elephant is so much under threat from habitat loss, conflict with humans and illegal poaching and hunting that on present trends it could die out within 50 years.

In 2011, at least 17 000 African elephants were killed for their tusks according to Cites, the international body that focuses on endangered species.

Ivory is highly prized as a “white gold” in Asian countries where a growing middle class is seeking safe investments, and United Nations wildlife experts say the trade in illegal ivory has more than doubled since 2007.

In Zimbabwe, about 24 000 elephants have been lost to poachers over the past 20 years, prejudicing the hard currency starved economy of an estimated $3 billion in sport hunting fees alone.

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