By Charles Gray
The recent cyanide poisoning of elephants in Zimbabwe has sparked both horror and revulsion across the globe.
In addition to the deaths of hundreds of elephants, a vast number of other animals, ranging from lions to vultures have also been killed, by either drinking from the poisoned water or feeding on the contaminated flesh of other animals that had been killed by the cyanide poisoning.
The death toll is staggering in and of itself, and it could lead to long-term damage to the local ecosystem centered in the Hwange National Park, where the poisonings took place.
Should this type of poaching become common, it could reduce huge swaths of Africa to lifeless desert, as animals continue to be poisoned long after the poachers have left.
But while the obvious effects occur at the hands of poorly paid individuals, the motivation for the crime comes from the high prices that illegal ivory can command.
In most cases, the poachers themselves obtain only a fraction of what illegal ivory is sold for on the black market, a state of affairs very similar to the economic underpinnings of the drug trade.
Unfortunately, plans to regulate or eliminate the ivory trade run aground upon the political, social and financial instability of some African nations.
Economic chaos can create a vast number of poverty-stricken families who must seek out every avenue to obtain money for the necessities of life. To these individuals, selling ivory is no more than a way to avoid starvation for another year.
The chronic underfunding of park rangers has resulted in them being unable to successfully police nature reserves such as the Hwange National Park. More....