At least 19 elephants have been poached through cyanide poisoning since June in Zimbabwe’s biggest game park where drones were deployed last year to help deter poachers.
A tally from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) indicates that all the elephants were poisoned in Hwange National Park and an adjacent forest in western Zimbabwe. Some of the carcasses were found with their tusks removed.
About 250kg of cyanide was recovered from the scene of the latest poisoning incident on September 1 in the park.
According to the ZimParks figures released on 18 September, seven suspected poachers were shot dead in two provinces while 408 were arrested between January and September, 388 of whom were Zimbabweans and 20 foreigners.
An assortment of weapons was also recovered including 19 rifles and 45 pieces of ivory. Also confiscated were 145 game nets and 285 snares.
About 60 percent of the arrests took place in the northern parts of the country while the western region accounted for the remainder. However, all the cases of elephant poaching through cyanide poisoning recorded so far have occurred in or around Hwange National Park which is home to around 40 000 elephants, almost half the national population.
The poisonings are a reminder of the 2015 carnage that left 235 elephants dead in the park.
In September last year ZimParks, with support from UAV and Drone Solutions (UDS) and Air Shepherd deployed an unspecified number of unmanned aerial vehicles in the park but poachers are still finding it possible to sneak into the expansive, poorly fenced animal sanctuary to poach.
Charles Jonga, director of the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources urged the government to enhance anti-poaching activities by flying more drones to complement conventional methods.
“Drones can be very helpful and our suggestion is that we need more of them,” he said.
“They can help, but obviously their effectiveness depends on our reaction capability on the ground. This means that alone, drones cannot stop poachers. They also must be suited for the harsh conditions as our game parks are mostly in very hot regions where high temperatures can compromise their effectiveness.”
ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo recently told the national broadcaster, ZBC News, that the continuing cases of cyanide poisoning were a matter of concern for the organisation.
He said ZimParks’ anti-poaching activities are being frustrated by a lack of resources. He appealed to the private sector and other stakeholders to help the authorities in fighting poachers.