HARARE — More than 300 elephants and other animals have died of cyanide poisoning by poachers in Zimbabwe’s largest game park, a wildlife conservation group said yesterday.
“In July, around 300 elephants had died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange and were discovered by a group of hunters who flew over the area,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe
Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) said.
He said other animals that had also been killed included lions, vultures, painted dogs and hyenas.
“The authorities only stepped in in September and by then the numbers had escalated. As at last week, about 325 had died altogether.”
Government officials were not immediately available to confirm the figure.
The parks and wildlife authority said last week that the death toll from poisoning was 100. Four poachers have been jailed for at least 15 years each for the crime.
Rodrigues accused the authorities of downplaying the toll, adding that poaching masterminds often got off scot-free.
“The problem is that a big cover-up is going on,” he said.
“Those who have been arrested and convicted are the small fry who are being used as scapegoats while the big and dangerous fish are untouched. These include politicians and big business people,” said Rodrigues.
Police have given villagers living around the park until the end of October to hand over any cyanide they might have or risk arrest.
However, some traditional leaders from areas bordering the park have pleaded with the authorities to pardon those arrested for poaching, saying they were driven by poverty not greed.
Just 50 rangers patrol the 14 650km² park and wildlife authorities say 10 times that number are needed.
There are more than 120 000 elephants roaming Zimbabwe’s national parks.