What Do New Cyanide Poisonings Mean for Zimbabwe’s Elephants?

By Oscar Nkala

Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority says laboratory tests on the kidneys and livers of the 14 elephants found dead over the past two weeks in Hwange and Matusadona National Parks confirm that they were killed by cyanide-laced salt licks and fruit used as bait.

This suggests that poachers may be returning to launch large-scale cyanide operations two years after 300 elephants died in Hwange after drinking from water holes contaminated with cyanide.

According to Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Agency, 11 elephants and two black rhinos were killed by cyanide poaching in the country’s national parks and private game sanctuaries between January 2014 and March 2015.

Cyanide also took the lives of at least four vultures, a warthog, a Cape turtle, a sandgrouse, and various scavengers that fed on the poisoned corpses.

From January to July of this year, according to police, at least 49 elephants were killed in Zimbabwe’s national parks by poachers using firearms, traps, and snares.

Despite the global outrage caused by the 2013 mass cyanide slaughter of elephants, the chemical continues to be used by poachers who have targeted fewer animals at a time, presumably to avoid detection.

Speaking at a press conference in Harare on Tuesday, parks authority
spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo said the three elephants found dead in Matusadona last week had eaten oranges laced with cyanide.

She said the tests, which were conducted at the University of Zimbabwe’s Biological Sciences Department, showed that poisoned salt licks had killed the 11 elephants in Hwange.

According to Washaya-Moyo, the carcasses of four female elephants and one
bull were found more than 30 feet apart near Dete, in Hwange National Park on September 25. Their tusks had not been removed, indicating that the poachers may have been disturbed and left in a hurry.

The carcasses of a second group, of three adult females and three calves—all —> Read More