News / Africa

Elephants Killed by Cyanide Reveal Alarming Innovation in Poaching Tactics

The carcass of an elephant which was killed after drinking poisoned water, lies near a water hole in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, September 27, 2013.
The carcass of an elephant which was killed after drinking poisoned water, lies near a water hole in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, September 27, 2013.
Nearly 100 elephants have been killed with cyanide over the last few months in western Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, leaving anti-poaching agencies worried about the broader implications of poachers turning to poison in order to collect ivory. 
In September, ten poachers were arrested in what anti-poaching advocates say was the largest single killing of elephants in Zimbabwe's history. Since May, 90 elephants have been killed after feeding from salt licks that have been poisoned with a mixture of cyanide and lead.
Three of the poachers have already been convicted, receiving sentences of 15 to 16 years and major fines. The remaining seven are set to go to court this month. More arrests are possible.
Caroline Washaya-Moyo, the public relations manager for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, is shocked by this new form of poaching is shocking and is worried about its potentially wide-reaching consequences.
"We were used to them putting snares, used to them shooting the elephants, we're used to them using the traditional way of poaching. But this is new and it is indiscriminate…anything that then feeds on the elephant, dies," pointed out Washaya-Moyo.
Cyanide shuts down cellular respiration; the poison puts the body into a coma with seizures and cardiac arrest. Death occurs quickly after ingestion.
Along with elephants, one lion, two water buffaloes, one kudu, two painted dogs and several vultures have been killed by the poison.
Tom Milliken heads the elephant and rhino program for TRAFFIC, an organization that monitors the illegal trade of ivory. He noted that the use of chemical agents to kill wildlife opens a new front in the battle against poachers.
"It’s really a crime against ecology really. You've got a poisoned food chain….We also see it in the rhino wars where certain agricultural chemicals have been put into oranges and melons and things and left out for rhinos sometimes elephants. The advantage to poisoning, from a poacher's perspective, is that with no gunshot you're not drawing attention to yourself….We're seeing more of this," said Milliken.
The cyanide and lead mixture that was put into salt licks in Hwange also traveled into watering holes.
The parks authority has been working with the country's Environmental Management Agency to clean up the poisoned areas and neutralize any leftover cyanide.
Washaya-Moyo says Zimbabwe's parks system, which is already struggling financially, now has to begin to stretch its resources even further to address another form of poaching.
"For starters, we need to train our rangers, to manage the park. By that I mean to say to how then do they identify that a salt lick has been poisoned… How do they test for cyanide? Obviously it changes a lot of things… So we are on high alert in all other national parks. We are insuring that our rangers also take care of themselves when they go out, not to just drink water from any natural sources within the park," said Washaya-Moyo.
Milliken says that as the demand for ivory has grown, and as certain elephant and rhino populations have been drastically reduced, poachers are moving south.
"One of the things that concerns me is that the killing fields of Central Africa are really depleted now, and I think we're really going to see attention turned to those countries that have large elephants population like Zimbabwe, possibly Botswana, Namibia, where poaching has been on a much [smaller] scale than elsewhere in Africa," said Milliken.
With these areas being targeted more, the Zimbabwean parks system will need more help than ever, but Washaya-Moyo claims they are lacking; she says the park should have at least 700 employees on staff, but has only 140. Staff don't have two-way radios, lack uniforms, and don't have enough firearms or vehicles. Each officer is tasked with protecting 200 square kilometers of park.
"We're understaffed; we're under resourced; we're finically constrained. For us to contribute meaningfully to protecting wildlife in this country we need a minimum of $40 million United States dollars," said Washaya-Moyo.
Milliken worries that the only way to stop such poaching is for international law enforcement to target the kingpins of poaching, rather than the street-level poachers, who can easily be replaced.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs