By Alexandra Govere
The number of elephants that have died from drinking out of a cyanide-poisoned watering hole in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park is now at least 325, a wildlife conservation group said Monday. The government’s official count is only at 100, leading conservationists to believe that many high-level Zimbabwean politicians and businessmen have a greedy hand in the illegal ivory trade.
“In July, around 300 elephants had died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange and were discovered by a group of hunters who flew over the area,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force told AFP. “The authorities only stepped in in September and by then the numbers had escalated. As of last week, about 325 had died altogether.”
Last week, the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Authority announced that only 100 elephants have been poisoned this year. Only four poachers have been jailed, each of them sentenced to 15 or more years of jail-time.
Rodrigues believes the authorities are downplaying the toll because they’re somehow involved in the illegal global ivory trade, which generates an estimated $10 billion per year. Given Zimbabwe’s corrupt government history — for example, the supposedly “democratic” nation has been dictated by President Robert Mugabe for 33 years — Rodrigues’ claims don’t seem improbable.
“Those who have been arrested and convicted are the small fry who are being used as scapegoats while the big and dangerous fish are untouched,” he said. “These include politicians and big business people.”
Elephant poaching is becoming increasingly common with the growing demand for decorative and religious ornaments made out of ivory in China, Thailand and other Asian nations. One elephant is killed by poachers every 15 minutes, and two-thirds of the Tanzanian elephant population has been poached in the past three years — a statistic so upsetting to one Tanzanian official that he suggested shooting poachers on the spot rather than arresting them and holding fair trials. More....