Poachers have mixed cyanide with salt to quietly take down elephants in the north of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's Chronicle reported that police broke a syndicate of six poachers that killed and took the tusks of 41 elephants in Hwange.
The poachers laced salt with cyanide and put it around large pools where the elephants normally went to drink water. When they died their tusks would then be cut off and taken back to their homes.
The poachers were caught after rangers heard gunshots and went to the scene. They followed the tracks back to a house that was used as a storage space. One of them was then convinced by the police and rangers to phone the rest of the gang and come to the house, where they were arrested.
Police recovered 17 tusks worth R1.2-million in total.
The newspaper also reported the local chief inspector saying: "What they are doing is very cruel because it does not end in the death of the elephants. Animals that feed on the dead elephants will die and those that feed on these will also die [because cyanide stays in the system]."
The poaching of elephants on the continent has dramatically increased. A report released at this year's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species gathering, "Elephants in the Dust – The African Elephant Crisis", said at least 25 000 elephants were killed in Africa last year. The trade in ivory – which is illegal – doubled since 2007, it said.
In Tanzania, 30 elephants a day are killed for their tusks, rapidly cutting down Africa's second largest herd. The government predicts that at this rate 10 000 elephants will have been killed by the end of this year.
The problem has not yet reached South Africa, but it is rife in neighbouring countries. Julian Blanc, acting co-ordinator and data analyst at Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (Mike), said: "While poaching levels in Southern Africa are not as high as in other parts of the continent, they are steadily increasing."
Their research linked poverty with poaching, and for now this was less of a problem on the South African side of the park, he said.
Elephant poaching was a problem in South Africa in the 1980s, but it was stamped out and populations have steadily increased since then. SANParks is, however, planning for an increase in poaching, with its planning documents warning about "the threat of elephant poaching looming on the horizon".
The total number of elephants killed has risen to 69, along with thousands of predatory birds and other mammals.