Death Toll in Elephant Poisoning Rises to 91

Poachers in Zimbabwe find ruthlessly efficient way to harvest ivory
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 1, 2013 5:28 PM CDT
Elephant carcasses are seen in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – It was bad enough when reports emerged that poachers had killed about 40 elephants in a Zimbabwe national park by poisoning their watering holes. But now the death toll is 91 and still rising. Massive bones, some already bleached by the blistering sun in the Hwange National Park, litter the landscape around one remote watering hole where 18 carcasses were found. Officials say cyanide used in gold mining was spread by poachers over flat "salt pans," also known as natural, mineral-rich salt licks. They say lions, hyenas, and vultures have died from feeding on contaminated carcasses or drinking nearby.

The poachers are after the elephants' ivory, of course, a trade that Quartz estimates to be worth between $7 billion to $10 billion a year thanks to booming interest in China and other Asian nations. Worse, terrorist groups such as al-Shabab—the network behind the mall attack in Kenya—get up to 40% of their money through the trade. “Poisoning is not really common as a means to kill elephants but, unfortunately, in recent years we have seen more instances," says one expert. "The Hwange massacre, however, is on a scale not previously witnessed." (Read more elephants stories.)

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