Zimbabwe Elephants May Have Been Poisoned by Park Rangers, Not Poachers

During the month of October, more than 60 elephants were poisoned with cyanide in Zimbabwe. In the most recent killings, rangers found 22 dead elephants in Hwange Park the morning of Oct. 26.

Just two weeks earlier, the carcasses of 26 poisoned elephants were found in two locations.

These killings aren’t some terrible new trend. During 2013, 300 elephants died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange.

The cyanide is hidden in oranges and salt licks. Unlike loud, attention-getting gun shots, the poison kills elephants silently. Local authorities believe the cyanide has been obtained from illegal gold miners in the area.

Not only are elephants dying, but the cyanide also has a deadly impact on the ecosystem, poisoning animals that share their watering holes and salt licks, and feed on their carcasses.

“The rate at which we are losing animals to cyanide is alarming,” national parks spokeswoman Caroline Washaya-Moyo told the Associated Press after the latest slaughter. “Many other species are also dying from the cyanide used by poachers to target elephants.”

But if it was poachers who killed these 22 elephants, it seems kind of strange they took only three ivory tusks. Only seven tusks were taken from the 22 elephants killed earlier in October – although some of those victims were too young to have grown them yet.

Conservation sources told the Telegraph it’s not poachers who are poisoning many of the elephants. It’s disgruntled park rangers.

The rangers believe they should be paid more since they regularly risk their lives to protect elephants from heavily armed poachers.

“They are angry because of lack of allowances,” Headman Sibanda, a well-known hunter in the area, told the Telegraph. “Some of them believe they should be getting allowances and they are not, but some senior management are getting allowances unfairly.”

One ranger who was arrested in October on suspicion of poisoning elephants earns about $425 a month, the Telegraph reports. The tusks from one elephant have a market value of around $29,000.

The rangers may be resorting to poaching as a way to boost their income, or they may just be killing the elephants out of spite, a source close to Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Authority (Zimparks) told the Telegraph.

The funding for Zimparks comes from tourists and hunters, not the government. Those funds have dwindled since last year, when the United States banned the import of elephant trophies from hunts in Zimbabwe.

“All this poaching is because of American policies,” Oppah Muchinguri, the environment, water and climate minister, told the Guardian Oct. 14. “They are banning sport hunting. An elephant would cost $120,000 in sport hunting but a tourist pays only $10 to view the same elephant.”

It’s a tragic lose-lose-lose situation for the estimated 500,000 remaining African elephants. Not only are their lives threatened by hunters (Hwange also happens to be where Walter Palmer slaughtered Cecil the lion in August) and poachers, but apparently by angry rangers as well.

Even if park rangers weren’t directly involved in the poisonings, they didn’t do much to stop them, according to Colin Gilles, a local elephant counter.

“The first poisoning in the park was discovered just 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the main camp (where Hwange rangers are headquartered),” Giles told the Telegraph. “This is not a remote part of the camp.”

To help increase the monitoring of this large park, Washaya-Moyo told the AP drones and trained dogs from South Africa will be deployed.

“This is a very emotionally draining and tragic time for all of us in parks,” she told the Telegraph. “There is zero tolerance for this crime and we are totally committed to preserving our wildlife.”

Along with better monitoring, the ban of commercial ivory sales in the U.S. and China, announced in September by President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, could help end the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants every year. Unfortunately, there currently is no set date for the ban to go into effect in China. It is supposed to be enacted within a year or so.

The sooner the better, or these magnificent creatures could become extinct in our lifetimes.

Photo Credit: Laura

133 comments

Lyn V.
Lyn V2 years ago

The general population in Zimbabwe live in very poor conditions and the Govt is no particularly interested in its people. This leads to the few who will do ANYTHING to raise funds for themselves and family SO the pathetic RICH PEOPLE with no morals make themselves feel like heros by KILLING trapped and probably drugged animals to boost their ego's-------THEY ARE DISGUSTING EXCUSES FOR HUMANS

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

No more sacrifice, anyway

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thanks

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

It's always about money. Greed from ivory and poachers now to demanding more pay. If this is the case, the rangers who did this should be paid with a silver bullet...each.

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Linda C.
Linda C3 years ago

Did that ranger stop to think that an elephant has only two tusks and when it is dead and they are taken there is no more but a live elephant could be viewed by thousands of ecotourists over its lifetime and is therefore an almost endless source of revenue (which is the only value that ranger sees)?

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

Heartbreaking!

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Renee M.
Renee M3 years ago

Just awful!!

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Sherri S.
Sherri S3 years ago

So sad on all accounts. Jonathan Y. says it best.

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Dimitris Dallis
Past Member 3 years ago

Authorities are always involved, one way or another.

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