Zimbabwe authorities have confirmed that 81 elephants have died from cyanide poisoning at the country's Hwange National Park since May. But they have refuted earlier reports that a South African businessman was behind the worst single poaching operation at the park.
Poachers have made off with 110 tusks that are believed to be destined for Middle East and the Far East to supply growing demand for ivory jewellery. It is also alleged that 26 low level runners have also been arrested.
There are more than 30 000 elephants in the Hwange area, twice as many as the local environment can sustain and this has often brought them in conflict with local communities. But authorities believe that this operation was both highly sophisticated and well-funded.
Carcasses strewn kilometers apart, belie the scale of the disaster. There were no gunshots to attract the ranger’s attention, the poachers used cyanide. They dumped the poison in salt pans where elephants feed and in buckets along known elephant trails. The death's were quick but agonising.
With only 40 rangers with archaic weapons monitoring an area almost as large as Swaziland, it's both ill-equipped to deal with the menace. "We are increasing our surveillance, we are increasing our intelligence, we are also increasing our enforcement. We are aware that we can't do this on our own, so we will work with other law enforcement agencies in the country," says National Parks Chief Edson Chidziya.
The country's newly appointed Environment minister is also busy tackling complex chain of poaching. More....