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Poachers Kill Over 300 Zimbabwe Elephants with Cyanide

Elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (Kevin Walsh)

Elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (Kevin Walsh)

Poachers in Zimbabwe have poisoned to death more than 300 elephants and many other animals in the southern African nation’s largest national park.

The Telegraph reports cyanide was used to kill the pachyderms in Hwange National Park, 600 km (370 miles) west of the capital city of Harare.

Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told Agence France-Presse that the 300 elephants had been poisoned in July, their rotting remains discovered by hunters making an overflight of the area.

“The authorities only stepped in in September and by then the numbers had escalated,” said Rodrigues. “As of last week, about 325 had died altogether.”

In addition to elephants, other animals, including lions, hyenas, vultures and painted dogs, had also been poisoned to death, according to Rodrigues.

While Zimbabwean wildlife authorities said only 100 elephants had been killed and four poachers have been sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in connection with the crime, Rodrigues accused the government of engaging in a “big cover-up” and allowing poaching kingpins to go unpunished.

“Those who have been arrested and convicted are the small fry,” he told AFP. “The big and dangerous fish are untouched.”

There are more than 120,000 elephants living in Zimbabwe’s national parks. Hwange, which covers 14,650 sq. km (5,660 sq. miles), is the largest of these. Just 50 rangers patrol this vast expanse.

Once numbering in the millions, poaching and other human activity reduced the number of African elephants to 600,000 by the late 1980s. Protections were put in place, including a ban on ivory, but poachers still kill the animals, whose tusks and other parts are valued for ornaments, talismans and medicinal use. It is estimated that the illicit ivory trade is worth as much as $10 billion annually, and lately, terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab, the Somali militants who recently attacked a Kenyan shopping mall, have turned to ivory poaching to fund their activities.

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