Zimbabwean poachers have poisoned 87 elephants with cyanide in Hwange national park, which holds one of the world’s largest herds. Zimbabwean environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere said that park rangers and police have recovered 19 tusks, cyanide and wire snares, while searching villages close to the park. The poachers went after the ivory while authorities were preoccupied with the general election in Zimbabwe on July 31, and the elephants have been dying in the past few weeks.
Many cyanides are highly toxic, though the most hazardous compound is of the hydrogen variety. People have used hydrogen cyanide on other people for ages, and fisherman around the world use it in the controversial practice of cyanide fishing. Essentially, it’s extremely nasty stuff.
Kasukuwere states, “we are declaring war on the poachers – We are responding with all our might because our wildlife, including the elephants they are killing, are part of the natural resources and wealth that we want to benefit the people of Zimbabwe.” Hwange holds roughly 80,000 elephants, and the recently elected Kasukuwere is calling for stiffer penalties for ivory poaching.
African bush elephants are of the genus Loxodonta (Greek for ‘oblique-sided tooth’), with ancestors who developed during the middle Pliocene Epoch. The bush variety is the largest living terrestrial animal, and the largest individual on record stood 13.1 feet at the shoulder, and weighed 10 tons. African elephants are highly intelligent – among the world’s most intelligent species. Their brains are larger than that of any other land animal, and elephants display behaviors associated with learning, grief, cooperation, self-awareness, art and compassion, on a level considered to be equal to that of primates and cetaceans.
Zimbabwe, which once had a booming tourism industry, is trying to bounce back after years of decline due to destructive economic policies at the hand of long-standing president Robert Mugabe. Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party were again re-elected in July, so Zimbabwe will likely have to wait a little while for its proposed “Disneyland in Africa.”
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.