Cyanide Poisoning Linked to Death of 14 Elephants in Zimbabwe

Officials suspect that illegal poachers used the substance to quietly kill the targeted mammals.

(Photo: Robert Knopes/Getty Images)

Oct 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

The fight to save Africa’s elephants from extinction is more active than ever, with the U.S. and China recently taking new steps to stem the trade in ivory, and companies including Google and eBay pitching in as well. Yet the killing continues, and poachers are turning to new methods.

Yesterday, officials from Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park confirmed that 11 elephants had died from cyanide poisoning in what sources believe to be the result of recent poaching efforts. Three elephants from Matusadona National Park in western Zimbabwe were poisoned as well. “It is a horrible way to die,” Carel Verhoef, a professional African guide, told CNN.

When a person or animal is exposed to cyanide, breathing and functionality become immediately impaired and eventually lead to suffocation.

It’s believed that the poachers used orange peels and salt licks laced with cyanide as a means of quietly killing the mammals. Of those found dead, several were too young to have tusks; one was just three months old. Only four of the elephants were missing tusks, but officials suspect that the poachers were disrupted before they could strip more ivory from the targeted group.

The 14 deaths come with news from the United Nations that one-fifth of Mali’s rare desert elephants were killed this year owing to increased poaching efforts. It was estimated that 57 elephants died between January and June in the country, where 300 members of the species reside.

With just 400,000 elephants remaining and nearly 100 illegally killed each day last year to feed the ivory trade, the species could go extinct by the end of the next decade.