Park authorities examine carcass of elephant poisoned by cyanide in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Photo credit: AP

I’m always more enthused to share conservation success stories than grim accounts of wildlife devastation, but it’s crucial for the Good Nature community to remain informed about crises, too, since awareness and public pressure are often essential to addressing the problems that impede conservation efforts.

This has never been more the case than with the epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, which continues to rise at an alarming rate. The most recent event is this story out of Zimbabwe, in which more than 300 elephants have been killed in the country’s largest national park since July, by poachers using cyanide – a figure far higher than earlier official estimates. London’s Telegraph has exclusive images, which are difficult but important to look at, to get a sense of the devastation.

Aerial flights over Hwange National Park conducted by legitimate game hunters have revealed three times as many fallen elephants than park authorities originally announced. Poachers have been poisoning water holes and salt licks, killing not just elephants but also other animals that use the sites, including lions, and scavengers that feed upon the elephant carcasses.

The massacre is the largest elephant slaughter in this part of Africa in the last 25 years, according to Tom Milliken, elephant and rhino program leader for TRAFFIC, a global network established to monitor the wildlife trade. Zimbabwe is home to at least 80,000 elephants, about half of which live in Hwange, the country’s flagship wildlife reserve.

Local villagers, driven by poverty, have been identified in the crime, and so far, four poachers have been jailed for 15-year terms. But they do not represent the masterminds behind the wider enterprise. The tusks are sold by local people for less than $500 each to cross-border traders who then sell them for more than $15,000 per pair in South Africa. They are generally sold again and processed to meet growing consumer demand for ivory, particular in Asia, where it is valued for ornamental and traditional medicinal purposes.

Elephant poaching in Africa has reached record levels in recent years, with tens of thousands of elephants killed each yearfor their ivory tusks. Conservation groups say the illegal international ivory trade is worth up to $10 billion a year.

Cyanide poisoning marks a new and particularly grave method of poaching, given its ease of use, ability to poison many elephants at once, and its impact on other wildlife — indeed putting an entire ecosystem at risk. Just 50 rangers patrol the 5,660-square mile park, and wildlife authorities say ten times that number are needed to fight back against this mode of poaching.

Elephants in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: AFP

But ultimately, until elephants have greater value alive than dead, it’s going to be difficult to stanch the losses. One way to help reach that goal is to support and increase safari ecotourism in Zimbabwe, as well as other parts of Africa where elephant poaching is rampant and resources to combat it are few, such as Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve.

At Natural Habitat Adventures, that’s what we have always been about: helping to protect and preserve the Earth’s wild places and their inhabitants by sharing them with our guests, as we set industry standards for eco-conscious nature travel. Every traveler who joins one of our African safaris is part of the solution.

Yours in Commitment to Conservation,


P.S. Learn more about Africa’s elephants, and how you can help protect them, at WWF’s website.