Ten dead elephants have been found poisoned in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, the country’s largest wildlife area, as poachers continue to scavenge valuable tusks to sell.
Four of these elephants died in the south of the park, with their tusks being removed. Six died in the north, including a mother and her calf. The poachers had not yet returned to take these usks. The dead elephants were mostly found by pilots counting animals in the area.
The incident happened last week. At the northern scene, park rangers found a bucket of poison, reported The Guardian. Three arrests were made over the weekend, with one person found in possession of ivory.
This latest event highlights how much of a problem elephant poisoning is in Zimbabwe at the moment. The first reported incident was back in 2013, when a mass poisoning of elephants resulted in 100 deaths, according to the website Conservation Action Trust.
Since then, the practice has continued. The poisons used, either cyanide or paraquat, are both readily available in the country and death by poison is a lot quieter than gunshots. Locals are turning to this method to make money, as the tusks can fetch up to $320, which is a small fortune for many.
In an attempt to deter poachers, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has given its rangers a shoot-to-kill policy. Any poachers captured alive are given a minimum jail sentence of nine years if they are found with ivory or poison, and a hefty fine.
But this hasn’t been enough to stop the rampant poaching, with many people still risking their livelihood for the chance of making money. The unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is now 95 percent, and despite President Mugabe’s claims to the contrary, the country appears to be struggling.
According to the IUCN, poaching may be the cause of the worst African elephant losses in 25 years. Numbers have dwindled by about 110,000 since 2015, with the continental total now standing at around 415,000 elephants.
“These new numbers reveal the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant – one of the world's most intelligent animals and the largest terrestrial mammal alive today,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen, last year. “It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species.”
These latest deaths make for further grim reading, and with the country’s woes continuing, there may be no end in sight to poachers trying to earn a living by killing elephants.