Zimbabwe Elephant Poisoning Death Toll Reaches 300

Zimbabwe’s elephant poisoning death toll rose past 300, according to a wildlife conservation group. Other animals have also been killed in the massacre, due to cyanide poisoning by poachers.

The deaths are happening in Hwange, and they were first discovered by a group of hunters who flew over the area, according to Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.

The Huffington Post reports that other animals killed in the massacre include lions, vultures, painted dogs, and hyenas. Rodrigues added, “The authorities only stepped in in September and by then the numbers had escalated. As at last week, about 325 had died altogether.”

However, the parks and wildlife authority had a much more conservative estimate, saying about the final death toll from the poisoning was about 100 elephants. Four poachers were arrested and sentenced to at least 15 years each for the crime.

But Rodrigues and his organization aren’t buying the death toll number or the arrests, and the chairman claimed, “The problem is that a big cover-up is going on.”

The Telegraph notes that conservationists are calling the Zimbabwe elephant poisonings the largest massacre in southern Africa in the last 25 years. The use of cyanide is particularly troubling, because it represents a new and much more damaging technique in the poaching trade.

Poachers killed the animals by lacing their watering holes and salt licks with the poison. The elephant carcasses were spotted within a few yards of the waterholes where they were poisoned. When lions, hyenas, and vultures fed on the elephants’ remains, they were killed as well.

Zimbabwe has one of Africa’s largest populations of African elephants, and about half of the estimated 40,000 in the country live in Hwange. However, authorities believe nearby villagers are responsible for killing the elephants, then selling their ivory tusks for a small fortune.

The elephant poisonings were first discovered by a European hunter and his Zimbabwean guides, who found a cow and her calf while flying over the area. As they flew lower, they saw dozens more. One hunter recalled, “We couldn’t believe our eyes. We thought at first that they must have been shot. There were too many to have died of thirst or hunger.”

They flew back to camp and took a vehicle to the area after alerting government rangers. When they came upon the corpses, they found that the elephants weren’t shot, but their tusks were gone. A spokesman for Zimbabwe’s National Parks noted that 10 more elephants were found poisoned last week. Their deaths happened in the past few weeks, a fact that suggests the cyanide poisonings haven’t stopped.

[Image via ShutterStock]