Zimbabwe elephant poisoning toll rises


Zimbabwe wildlife authorities have discovered 10 elephant carcasses poisoned by cyanide, which raises the number found to over 100.

Elephant tusks and other body parts are prized for ornaments, as talismans, and for use in traditional medicine. (Madelene Cronje)

Zimbabwean wildlife authorities said on Tuesday they discovered another 10 elephant carcasses, bringing the number of the animals poisoned by cyanide for their ivory to over 100 in the past month.

"Ten elephant carcasses were recovered in Hwange [National Park] the day before yesterday [Sunday], two suspects were arrested and 14 pieces of ivory recovered," said Caroline Washaya-Moyo, spokesperson for the parks and wildlife authority.

In mid-September, the park reported 81 elephants were killed and Washaya-Moyo said the discovery of the latest carcasses, and several others in between, brought the figure to over 100.

Twelve people have been arrested in recent weeks in connection with the killings, three of whom were sentenced in September to at least 15 years in prison each.

The magistrate also ordered them to pay $600 000 to the Zimbabwe Wildlife and Parks Authority for killing the animals by the end of the year.

Increasingly daring poachers
Authorities have given villagers living around the park until the end of October to hand over any cyanide they might have or risk arrest.

Traditional leaders in Tsholotsho, a village bordering the park, pleaded with the authorities to pardon the villagers, saying they were driven by poverty to kill the elephants and not by greed.

Just 50 rangers patrol the 14 650-square kilometre park, and wildlife authorities said 10 times that number are needed.

There are more than 120 000 elephants roaming Zimbabwe's national parks.

In October Zimbabwe said it wanted to raise $40-million to fight the increasingly daring poachers and conservationists accused the government of refusing to investigate possible links between senior government officials and wealthy ivory smuggling cartels.

Rare exceptions
The poisoning of at least 100 elephants in the Hwange National Park drew outrage and spurred the government to pledge tougher action.

Zimbabwe's Environment, Water and Climate Minister Saviour Kasukuwere told the Mail & Guardian that $40-million is needed to equip rangers from the department of national parks and wildlife, who are fighting more sophisticated and better-armed poaching syndicates.

Elephant tusks and other body parts are prized for ornaments, as talismans, and for use in traditional medicine.

The international trade in ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after the population of African elephants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to just 600 000 by the end of the 1980s.

Wildlife experts estimate that the illegal international ivory trade is worth up to $10-billion a year. – Sapa-AFP; additional reporting by Jason Moyo

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