News / Africa

Cyanide Kills Elephants, Ecosystem

Elephants at a watering hole in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Credit: African Wildlife Foundation
Elephants at a watering hole in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Credit: African Wildlife Foundation

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
Last month, poachers killed 300 elephants in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park by poisoning their water supply and salt licks. Wildlife groups say cyanide not only kills a large number of animals in a short time, but also can have disastrous consequences for the environment.


Philip Muruthi calls the poaching attack in Zimbabwe “one more horrific chapter in the tragic story of the African elephant.”

The senior director of conservation science for the African Wildlife Foundation, said, “Once the water or whatever has been laced with cyanide or any other poison it’s very hard for the authorities to detect until they see the animals dead. So, one ramification is that it hinders the ability to detect until the damage has been done. The second ramification is that they killed not only the animal targeted, but also non-target species. So, if elephants have been targeted for their ivory, but the water has been poisoned with cyanide, it means any other animal that drinks of that water will basically die.”

Chemical dips used to treat cattle have also been used to kill lions in some countries. As a result, raptor-type birds that come to feed on the carcasses also die.

He said, “Another ramification is really massive, massive, massive killing within a short period.”

Cyanide kills big and small alike.

“We even don’t know of the small things, you know, the small species, insects, other things that are dying off. Those have not been documented. Of course, what we end up seeing is the large ones,” he said.

If the insects killed are pollinators that can adversely affect trees and plants.

“The disappearance of elephants, if this continues, or the disappearance of lions, will have cascading effects on the ecosystem. Species, for example, that depend on elephants to clear the environment and provide for grazing – those species will be affected by this kind of action, including species such as zebras, such as wildebeests, such as all the other grazers, that depend on this important species – these ecosystem architects, so to speak,” he said.

What’s more, many park rangers have been killed by poachers.

The African Wildlife Foundation official said it may be possible to partially clean the environment after a cyanide poisoning.

“In many cases, these water holes are troughs. In many cases they are water holes that can be emptied and new water can be pumped in. You’ve got to keep the wildlife away. Depending on the chemical that is used, some of these chemicals can remain in the environment for a long time. It is not possible to remove these chemicals entirely from the vegetation and from the soils.”

Muruthi added that in many countries the penalties for poaching are just not tough enough.

“Let me give you an example,” he said, “The more arrests that are made, the more elephants die. The more arrests that are made, the more rhinos die. And that just tells me it is not deterrent enough. It is not something to cause somebody to say, well, I don’t even want to dare being arrested. You get arrested you get a tap on your shoulder and you go back to doing the same business. Most of the poachers are known to be repeat offenders.”

A number of arrests have been in the Zimbabwe elephant mass killing, including the alleged distributor of the cyanide. The chemical is often used in mining to extract gold from rock. Four convicted poachers have each been sentenced to 15 years in jail. Some of the ivory tusks taken have been confiscated.

Muruthi said authorities, the private sector and NGOs all have a stake in protecting elephants, rhinos and other endangered wildlife. He says incentives should be given to local communities to make them custodians of wildlife.

Muruthi praised recent initiatives targeting poaching. In September, an $80 million effort was announced by African nations, NGOs and the Clinton Foundation to boost law enforcement. And the Obama administration announced a $10 million campaign in July. Authorities say money from poaching can fund organized crime and terrorist groups.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More