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Cyanide Used to Kill 23 Elephants in Zimbabwean Park

  • Reuters

FILE - Two of the tens of thousands of elephants inside Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, Aug. 1, 2015.

FILE - Two of the tens of thousands of elephants inside Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, Aug. 1, 2015.

Suspected poachers have used cyanide to kill 23 elephants in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, raising the death toll there and in the northern part of the country to 60 since late September, officials said Thursday.

The park in western Zimbabwe currently hosts 53,000 elephants, twice the park's carrying capacity.

Park rangers recovered most of the tusks after the 23 elephants were killed with the deadly poison last Friday, but poachers got away with three tusks, officials said.

People have used rifles and traps to poach Zimbabwe's elephants over the years and started using cyanide in 2013. Cyanide is widely used in Zimbabwe's mining industry and is relatively easy to obtain.

"The possibilities of trying to control this huge source of cyanide, which is creating so much revenue for the country, is going to be extremely difficult for us to do," Brant Williamson, a local conservationist, told the state broadcaster. "People have access to this awful poison, and they don't understand the devastation that it causes by putting it into one water hole and how far that devastation reaches."

Elephant conservation groups said in 2013 that as many as 300 elephants died in the Hwange park after poachers laced salt pans there with cyanide. The government strongly disputed the figure, saying only a few dozen animals had died.

Hwange was home to Zimbabwe's most famous lion, Cecil, which was killed by an American dentist in July.

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