On Tuesday, Zimbabwe authorities revealed that the carcasses of 26 elephants had been found in Hwange National Park. Two weeks earlier, 14 elephant carcasses were found in the Matusadona and Hwange parks. Kidney and liver samples taken from the dead animals shows that they were killed by ingesting foodstuffs laced with cyanide.
“We have had a number of poaching activities in the province – they are actually increasing each day,” police commander Clement Munoriarwa told Zimbabwe state television last week. “Some are done through the use of firearms and, of course, we have cases where we suspect there is cyanide poisoning.”
Elephants are being killed across Africa at alarming rates thanks to the high price of black market ivory. The price has also been driven up by Chinese demand, where domestic sales of ivory are still legal (in four years, the value of ivory has risen from $750 to $2,000 per kilogram alone). Some 30,000 elephants were killed on the continent in 2013 and at least one expert predicts that large groups of the animals will be extinct in the next five years.
Caroline Washaya Moyo, a spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s parks, said that 14 tusks had been recovered from the 26 elephants killed in Hwange, indicating that the carcasses were found before poachers had a chance to take the rest. Sixteen of the elephants were found in the Lupande area and 10 were found in Chakabvi. Park rangers recovered 2.2 pounds of cyanide in their investigations, which The Guardian reports is widely used in the country’s mining industry and easily obtained.
Of the 14 elephants killed earlier this month, three were found in Matusadona national park in northern Zimbabwe and 11 were found in Hwange. The elephants died after eating oranges or salt licks laced with the poison.
On Monday, Oppah Muchinguri, the nation’s Environment, Water and Climate Minister, blamed a US ban on hunting Zimbabwean elephants for the increase in poaching.
“All this poaching is because of American policies,” she said. “They are banning sport hunting. An elephant would cost $120,000 in sport hunting but a tourist pays only $10 to view the same elephant.”
The Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project is offering a US$400 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the poisoners. According to the Project’s most recent Facebook post, several suspects have already been tried and convicted.