Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is in the limelight again. The park, once home to Cecil the Lion, now has dead elephants on its hands. Eleven elephants were poisoned with cyanide in the park and three more were poisoned in a game park in Kariba in the north of the country just in the past few weeks, wildlife officials told Reuters yesterday.
Park officials found six dead elephants on Sept. 26 with their tusks removed. Then, on Oct. 2, officials found five more elephants killed “after poachers mixed cyanide with coarse salt and maize cobs as bait for the animals,” says Reuters. The three elephants killed in Kariba “were poisoned by oranges laced with cyanide.” AP reports that the fact that eight of the elephants were killed without their tusks being removed suggests “the poachers were disrupted” during the hunt.
“No arrests have been made in all the cases and investigations are still in progress,” Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokeswoman Caroline Washaya-Moyo said. Cyanide use among elephant poachers began in 2013. The chemical is “relatively easy to obtain” in Zimbabwe because of its use in the country’s mining industry, according to Reuters.
“Elephant conservation groups said in 2013 as many as 300 elephants died in Hwange park after poachers laced salt pans with cyanide,” says Reuters. “The government strongly disputed the figure, saying only a few dozen animals had died.”
No matter the exact death toll in Hwange, wildlife poaching has become a massive problem worldwide. Despite heightened awareness of the problem, Louie Psihoyos, award-winning director of The Cove and Racing Extinction, says the “wildlife trade is second only to the drug trade.”
The killing of Cecil the Lion this summer sparked intense Internet outrage, but the problem is truly rampant. Many efforts are being undertaken to put a stop to the illegal trade, including commissioning fake elephant tusks and fitting them with GPS tracking devices, using drones to survey large areas and even using 3-D printers to manufacture fake rhino horns.
After Cecil the Lion’s death, several major U.S. airlines announced bans on the shipment of lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo, otherwise known as the “African Big Five.” And to crack down on the ivory trade, earlier this week California banned the purchase and sale of ivory, thus eliminating the third largest ivory market in the country and joining New York and New Jersey in banning intrastate ivory trade.
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