The Tragic Tale of Zimbabwe’s Elephants | A Case of Cyanide Poisoning
Elephants do not lose their teeth and continue to live. Tusks have to be taken from DEAD elephants! The poaching crisis in Zimbabwe has reached critical levels, the very future of the African elephant, the largest land animal on Earth, could be at risk. Statistics have shown that the obsession with ivory particularly in countries like China and other Asian countries has helped to fuel the poaching crisis.
The despicable ivory trade is leading poachers to kill elephants and take such extremes as poisoning watering holes with cyanide. Since 2013 poachers have moved from the traditional use of rifles and traps to poach elephants to the use of a more deadly weapon, cyanide. Poachers choose to use such poisons because it allows them to kill the large mammals silently against rifle shots that would alert rangers on their position.
Elephant poisoning with cyanide around Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife areas, especially at Hwange National Park and Gonarezhou National Park has become more prevalent. Poachers lace waterholes and salt licks with cyanide. Elephants are drawn to them during the dry season. According to wildlife experts, elephants die a most painful death from cyanide as they are decimated at hurricane speed once they drink from the poisoned water holes.
This has an adverse effect on our biodiversity and it disrupts a whole ecosystem. This is because poison is indiscriminate. Vultures that feed on the dead elephants in the park also die. As if it’s not enough, other animals such as buffalo’s and kudu’s in the parks also get attracted to the watering hole leading to their death.
Poaching is driven by a number of different factors. Some of them include a high demand for wildlife products, lack of benefits for local communities from conservation activities, poverty or unemployment. In regards to some of these factors, below are some of the approaches that could help to combat elephant poaching in Zimbabwe.
It is worryingly that cyanide is fairly easily available in Zimbabwe, in addition to its lethality. Given that it is maily used in the mining industry, it has become easy for anybody to obtain it. The law is clearly failing elephants because in Zimbabwe, there’s no effective way to track cyanide and elephants are suffering terrible deaths because of it.
A closer look at Zimbabwe’s hazardous substance laws shows that there is an inadequate inventory control and tracking system once cyanide leaves the hands of licensed suppliers. This weakness has led to the influx of the hazardous substance within mining communities making it easy for almost anybody to obtain it.
The Environmental Management Act Cap [20:27] as read with Statutory Instrument 12 of 2007, Hazardous Substances, Pesticides and Toxic Substances Regulations state that, any person who imports, transports, stores or sells any hazardous substance must have a license for each purpose. However what the law says and what people do is another thing. Poachers can easily buy cyanide from the miners themselves without question. Therefore the law needs to be altered to make the possession of cyanide a major offence as well as making penalties stiffer than they are.
In addition it is imperative for local police to have the proper scientific training to monitor the substance. It also means that they have to work together with other institutions like the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, which keeps national import records. They are better equipped keep registers of who imports cyanide and quantities thereof. Therefore such information would assist the police in investigations.
Another problem that presents itself in the fight against poaching is the porous national borders. This makes it easy for foreigners to come into Zimbabwe, posing even as tourists and commit such atrocities. It would fall on the government to engage other nations in its on-going efforts to curb the rampant elephant cyanide poisoning, cases of which are escalating by the day.
Besides poachers that trickle from outside the national boarders, elephant poaching also increases because of the support poachers get from local communities. Commercial poachers lure the inhabitants with much higher returns than they would not otherwise get through legitimate economic means. Hence as a coping strategy, the poor inhabitants assist poachers. There is therefore need for conservation authorities to establish schemes that will ensure local people value and at the same time benefit from conservation of elephants.
Conclusively, Elephants are more valuable alive than dead. Poaching has adverse impacts, be it socially, economically or ecologically. Be a voice for the voiceless.