(WILDLIFE CONSERVATION/POACHING) In a major loss for the animal kingdom, 10 elephants–including a mother and her young calf–were poisoned by poachers at Zimbabwe’s Hwange national park last week.

A bucket of poison (typically a dilute sodium cyanide solution and/or paraquat, an extremely toxic agricultural herbicide) was found near the scene and three arrests were made over the weekend, with one of the suspects found in possession of ivory.

Unfortunately this has become a common method of killing wildlife since using poison allows poachers to kill large mammals silently, without rifle shots that would alert park rangers to their whereabouts.

In addition to killing these magnificent creatures, the poison can also greatly disrupt the ecosystem and rattle the food chain. Predators like lions and hyenas can die if they consume poisoned flesh, while other animals have died by drinking from contaminated buckets and watering holes. What’s more, the deaths from this murder method are said to be slow and painful for the animals.

Read on to see how the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is responding to the problem with force, and click here to seek justice for the poisoned elephants and other affected wildlife. — Global Animal

One of the more than 100 elephants who were poisoned in Zimbabwe’s Hwange national park in September 2013. Photo Credit: AP

The Guardian, Adam Cruise

Ten elephants, including a mother and her young calf, have been found poisoned in and around Zimbabwe’s premier game reserve, Hwange national park. Six of the animals died in the south of the park last week; some had their tusks hacked off. The others were found outside the northern sector of the park in state forestry land.

Park rangers responded quickly. A bucket of poison was found near the gruesome scene in the north and three arrests were made over the weekend. One of those arrested was found in possession of ivory.

The first known case of elephant poisoning in Zimbabwe was a single massacre of over 100 elephants in Hwange national park in 2013. Since then it has become a common means of poaching – not only in Hwange but throughout the country’s protected areas, including the Zambezi valley and Gonarezhou national park.

It’s not just elephants that are dying. Predators and scavengers such lions, hyenas, jackals and vultures endure a slow and agonising death after eating poisoned flesh, while other animals such as antelope and zebra have been killed by drinking from contaminated buckets, waterholes and salt licks.

Poachers are poisoning watering holes with cyanide; killing 41 African elephants and threatening their extinction. Photo Credit: Associated Press

The poachers use a dilute sodium cyanide solution and, in some cases, paraquat, a powerful agricultural herbicide that is extremely toxic to humans as well as other animals. Roxy Danckwerts, founder of Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery, ended up with kidney and lung failure last year after handling two elephant calves that had been poisoned with paraquat in Hwange. She still has impaired breathing. The two calves, nicknamed Phoenix and Lucy, eventually died.

Both cyanide and paraquat are readily available in Zimbabwe. Paraquat, although banned in the EU, is used by farmers in Zimbabwe to kill weeds and grasses, while the cyanide-based solution is common with Zimbabwe’s hundreds of thousands of informal miners. Poachers like such poisons because they enable them to kill large mammals silently, without the rifle shots that would alert rangers to their whereabouts.

The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has responded to the problem with force. Trevor Lane, co-founder of the Bhejane Trust, a non-profit organisation that monitors poaching activities in the northern sector of Hwange, says rangers have been given a clear shoot-to-kill policy from the government for any poachers they find within a national park. “Poachers lucky to be captured alive,” he adds, “are immediately given a minimum jail sentence of nine years if they are found with ivory or poison.”

A single elephant tusk could be sold for around £250, which is a small fortune for any farmer.

The government had hoped that this approach would deter poachers but the value of ivory and the desperation of many rural Zimbabweans seem to outweigh the risks. Lane told Independent Online that he expects even more elephant poisonings “because people are so poor in this bad economic situation”. A poacher would be able sell a single tusk for around £250, a small fortune for any farmer.

Yet it’s not just impoverished villagers that are involved in the poisonings. The global lucrativeness of the illegal ivory trade is well documented, and Zimbabwe is no different. Mining directors, top police officers and even disgruntled rangershave all been implicated in elephant poisoning.

Most of the poisoned elephant carcasses in Hwange were discovered by pilots of light aircraft conducting periodic game counts. Colin Gillies, vice-chair of the Matabeleland branch of Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe, an organisation that conducts annual elephant counts in Hwange, says the remote south and north-eastern areas are notoriously difficult for rangers to patrol effectively. “The few crude vehicle tracks there,” he says, “are difficult to negotiate at the best of times but they become completely inaccessible during the wet season.”

More The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/20/ten-more-elephants-poisoned-by-poachers-in-zimbabwe

TAKE ACTION: Click here to seek justice for these poisoned elephants and other affected wildlife.