ZIMBABWE – Seven men have been arrested near Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park on suspicion of poisoning elephants with cyanide, a local conservation group have said.
One of the group was also found with a set of tusks, according to the Bhejane Trust, and sentenced to ten years in prison at Hwange magistrates court this week.
Another has been sentenced to seven months in prison over unlicensed ammunitions charges. Four of the men are understood to be on trial.
“The police and the parks authority are making a really serious effort,” said Trevor Lane, a director of Bhejane, The Times reports.
He added the men were arrested at two locations near the park, which boarders on Botswana.
At least 26 elephants have died in the park last month from suspected cyanide poisoning, according to National Geographic.
Cyanide is widely used in Zimbabwe’s mining industry and is relatively easy to obtain in the country.
The charity said over Facebook: “One problem is the illegal possession of cyanide is not a major offence and the law needs to be altered here.”
Poachers have traditionally used rifles and traps to poach Zimbabwe’s elephants, however cyanide has been more widely used since 2013, National Geographic reports.
Earlier this month, Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe’s minister of water, climate and environment, told the government owned newspaper The Sunday Mail, investigations into cyanide poisoning revealed cyanide was smuggled into the country from Zambia and South Africa by poaching syndicates.
Carel Verhoef, a professional safari guide said cyanide poisoning was “a horrible way to die”, affecting elephants’ breathing and causing them to suffocate to death.
He also warned about future dangers to animals in Hwange National Park: “If the salt licks were poisoned, then other animals would have died, so it would affect the whole ecosystem.”
Hwange national park in western Zimbabwe is the country’s largest and currently holds 53,000 elephants, Reuters reports.
The 5,660-square mile park was home to Cecil the lion before he was shot by American dentist in July.