Cyanide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical. It exists in various forms such as hydrogen cyanide (HCN) which is a colourless gas, or as crystals such as sodium cyanide (NaCN) or potassium cyanide (KCN). Cyanide is sometimes described as having a “bitter almond” smell when mixed with liquid, although not everyone can detect this odour.
Cyanide is readily absorbed by inhalation, ingestion or skin contact. The cyanide compound used to poison elephants is sodium cyanide, a powder that is relatively easy to obtain as it is used extensively in the mining industry. It is transported as dry pellets. …
There have been disturbing reports stating that disgruntled rangers in Hwange National Park are responsible for the poisoning and mutilation of elephants. While we cannot definitively disprove this, there are a number of allegations that don’t correlate to facts we know to be true. There are also some statements that make little sense and some that we know to be outright fabrication. We can confirm the following:
As regards 11 elephants poisoned in the Main Camp area of the Park, certain parks staff that were implicated have been apprehended, and investigations are ongoing. Further, as regards ivory that was intercepted at Harare International Airport, 3 Parks staff members have been arrested pending further investigation.
As regards poaching incidents in the Sinamatella region of the Park involving the poisoning and subsequent mutilation of elephants, we know the following:
None of the staff at Sinamatella have been implicated in either of the two poaching incidents known to have occurred in that region. In both cases, poachers were disturbed by parks patrols (rangers) and fled. Because the poachers were interrupted, they did not manage to recover all the ivory, most of which was left behind at the scene. In the first instance, the tracks of the poachers led towards the boundary of the Park. Similarly in the second instance, the tracks of 3 men led to the communal areas bordering the Park.
There is a big follow up operation as regards the source of the cyanide used, the middle man involved and where the cyanide ended up. The outcome of this will hopefully provide valuable information as to exactly who is involved in the poisoning of Hwanges elephants.
The poaching of elephants has been moving progressively south through Africa for decades. Corruption in Zimbabwe is rife, and abject poverty widespread. The monetary rewards of poaching are enticing. So the task we have ahead to save our precious wildlife is daunting and extremely urgent. Friends of Hwange Trust will continue to work towards the conservation of all the animals in Hwange in whatever ways we can.