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elephant deaths soar
Bloch, The Sunday Independent
September 29, 2013
heads of state made measured long-range commitments to intensify
anti-wildlife poaching measures at a UN summit in New York this
week, conservation authorities in Zimbabwe were continuing to count
the cost of what could be the single worst poaching
incident on the continent in living memory.
91 elephant carcasses had been found in Zimbabwe’s Hwange
National Park, victims of cyanide added to salt licks at watering
holes inside the reserve.
have indicated the poison has led to widespread devastation of the
ecosystems in the area, with large though at this stage untallied
numbers of other wildlife including lions, zebras, wildebeest, hyenas,
leopards, cheetahs and several species of birds also included in
the list of victims. Especially vulnerable have been vultures feeding
from elephant carcasses.
is the worst ecological disaster we have seen, and the fallout is
going to be massive,” said Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman of the
Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.
holes and the ground are contaminated, and the entire wildlife food
chain is threatened.
predators and vultures and other bird-life species are dying from
the chain reaction or secondary poisoning, and a lot more animals
are going to suffer and die.”
believe the final tally which has steadily risen after the discovery
of some 40 carcasses in August could climb to three figures before
the poisons introduced into the watering holes lose their toxicity.
an area of 14 650km2 and is Africa’s third largest wildlife
sanctuary. The Zimbabwe Wildlife Authority employs just 50 rangers
to protect the park where earlier this year it was reported the
last southern white rhino at Hwange had been poached.
no mention at this week’s UN-hosted deliberations in New York,
where Gabon’s President Ali Bongo called for the appointment
of a UN rapporteur on wildlife crime, a call supported by the UK
and Germany among others.
proactive were the Zimbabwean prosecutorial authorities, arresting
eight suspected poachers since August in connection with the cyanide
outrage, and securing confessions from at least two suspects that
elephants had been targeted for their ivory in poisoning the watering
This week three
of the suspects were convicted in the Hwange Regional Court. Two
were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, and an order for the restitution
of $600 000 (R5.9 million) to the Parks and Wildlife Management
Authority of Zimbabwe. The third was handed down a 16-year sentence
with labour, and an order for restitution in the value of $200 000.
political responses have been less pertinent, however, with Robert
Mugabe’s Zanu-PF blaming Western sanctions for the poaching
crisis. Claiming it had conducted a week-long investigation into
the cyanide poisoning, government mouthpiece the Zimbabwe Herald
said last week it attributed the elephant killing to “the
West’s illegal economic sanctions that affected Zimbabwe’s
once-vibrant wildlife management system”.
authorities have pointed out that cyanide is a highly controlled
substance, and virtually unobtainable. The single exception lies
in the mining sector.
In recent years,
several gold mining concessions in the Hwange region have been handed
out – nearly all of them to Chinese interests.
of the Hwange atrocity have not connected the provision of the cyanide
to mining operators in the area, circumstantial corroboration is
lent to the suspicion by organic chemist and toxicologist Gerhard
Verdoorn, the Chinese “colonisation of parts of Africa”
has led to a situation where a “very large quantity of unregistered
and uncontrolled Chinese pesticides and other toxins enter Africa
without any control”.
the use of poisons in poaching goes back some years, and that in
the past two years he has received several reports of mass poisonings
of wildlife in Zimabwe, Botswana and Namibia, but has been under
pressure from investigations authorities to “keep a lid on
the information” in the light of ongoing investigations.
has become one of the world’s most lucrative criminal industries,
with an estimated value of $7 billion to $10bn a year, nonprofit
advocacy groups say.
the estimated population of African elephants has fallen from 1.2
million to less than 420 000. In 2012 alone, 35 000 elephants were
slaughtered, data shows.
data indicates that most ivory smuggled from Africa goes to China,
according to Tom Milliken, an expert from world wildlife monitoring
Milliken, who runs the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS),
has tracked the illegal flow of ivory from Africa for the past 22
analysis that we’ve done since 2004, illegal trade in ivory
has been escalating. The last time we did a major assessment, in
2009, it was escalating at a rate faster and greater than we had
seen previously. Looking at large-scale ivory seizures in 2011,
it’s going off the charts. There were just 13 seizures that
generated over 23 tons of ivory,” he said.
in New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new global effort
to protect Africa’s wild elephants from poaching, part of
a personal crusade.
the killing stops, African forest elephants are expected to be extinct
within 10 years,” Clinton said. “I can’t even
grasp what a great disaster this is ecologically, but also for anyone
who shares this planet to lose a magnificent creature like the African
forest elephant seems like such a rebuke to our own values,”
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