Patrick Chitumba Senior Reporter
FOUR elephants have died from fresh cyanide poisoning at Zambezi National Park raising fears that more game could be killed by poachers using the deadly chemical.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority rangers on patrol discovered the dead jumbos in the park just outside Victoria Falls along the Zambezi River early this week, an official confirmed.
Zimparks public relations manager Caroline Washaya-Moyo said the death of the elephants comes as a shock, a year following a similar poisoning incident that left more than 100 jumbos dead at the Hwange National Park.
She said the authority learnt that a natural salt lick in the park was laced with cyanide leading to the poisoning of the elephants.
“Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority confirms that four elephants died from suspected cyanide poisoning in Zambezi National Park,” said Washaya-Moyo.
“Samples were collected and have been sent to Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Harare office for further investigation.”
Washaya-Moyo said preliminary results of investigations by Zimparks working with the police, EMA and Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust veterinary Dr Chris Fogging have confirmed that the elephants died as a result of cyanide poisoning.
“Other species that died as a result include one cape turtle dove, one sand grouse and a vulture,” she said.
Washaya-Moyo said the authority has since instituted ground and air patrols around the area as investigations into the poisoning continue.
Meanwhile, sources close to the investigations fingered Zambian poachers as the main culprits as some of them have been killed while poaching in the area.
“We suspect that this is the work of Zambian poachers. They are the ones who are always poaching in this park since they access it via the Zambezi River,” said a source on condition of anonymity.
Last July more than 100 elephants died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange, the country’s largest national park resulting in the arrest of more than 14 people mainly villagers from Tsholotsho who worked with poachers.
Some of the poachers were sentenceed to 16 years in prison and were in addition heavily fined.
Zimbabwe has one of Africa’s biggest surviving elephant populations since herds in neighbouring regions of Eastern and Central Africa have been decimated by poaching.
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the World Wildlife Fund, the often illegal ivory trade has resulted in an increase in elephant slaughters, with 30,000 African elephants killed each year.
The increase in cases of poaching could be blamed on the growing demand for ivory in Asia and the United States at a time when there is a moratorium on ivory trade by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Zimparks is on record saying the country is sitting on 70 tonnes of ivory stocks valued at more than $17 million.