National parks officials in Zimbabwe are calling for a review of the country’s laws and the introduction of tougher sentences to reduce poaching following the discovery Tuesday of 26 carcasses of elephants that died of cyanide poisoning at two different locations in the Hwange National Park.
Spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo of the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority told VOA cyanide poisoning is becoming a huge problem in the country, adding the only way to deal with poachers is to revise the country’s laws so the courts can mete out stiffer sentences.
The 26 elephants were discovered by rangers following another discovery last week of 14 other elephants, also poisoned to death by cyanide.
At least 14 tusks were recovered from the elephants. Washaya-Moyo said the rangers found 16 of the elephants in an area known as Lupande in Hwange and 10 others in Chakabvi.
No arrests have been made yet, she said, adding investigations are in progress with Environmental Management Authority officials on the ground to decontaminate affected drinking areas to save other wild animals.
“We need to send out proper messages to would-be poachers to say if you are found with hazardous substances these are the sentences that are going to be passed if you appear before any court of law,” said Washaya-Moyo.
Rangers recovered one kilogram of cyanide at one of the crime scenes, said Washaya-Moyo, adding the cash-strapped Harare is increasing patrols in the park to stem the poaching, which she says has become more sophisticated and silent as poachers no longer use guns.
Dead vultures were also littered in the park suggesting they had feasted on the poisoned elephant carcasses.
Cyanide is widely used in Zimbabwe's mining industry and the national parks spokesperson says the government should make sure that the chemical is not easy to obtain.
“The sad thing about the poaching in our country is that arrests are made and people arraigned before the courts but they will never tell you who their bosses are,” said Washaya-Moyo.
“Obviously they are the small fish on the ground but when you look at the lawyers, expensive lawyers, who’s paying for these people who even come to court without shoes, ordinary suffering people.”
Last week, the parks department reported that 14 elephants were found dead after being poisoned by cyanide in three separate incidents. As many as 300 elephants died in Hwange National Park in 2013 after poachers laced salt pans with cyanide.
The elephant crisis comes hot on the heels of the government’s announcement this week that it will not prosecute American dentist, Walter Palmer, whom they said had illegally killed famed lion, Cecil, after luring him from the Hwange National Park.