It’s a sad day for animal lovers. An estimated total of 81 elephants have been found dead at a Zimbabwe national park in recent weeks after reportedly being poisoned with cyanide.
According to the Associated Press via the Huffington Post, the Hwange National Park-based elephants were killed by poachers who poisoned their natural water supply with the chemical. Zimbabwean authorities claim the animals were killed for their ivory tusks, a hard, white material used in manufacturing and frequently sold in illegal trades.
Walter Mzembi, a tourism minister, revealed Tuesday that earlier this month more than 40 elephants carcasses were found within the National Park, the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe. According to wildlife officials, the cyanide has also been deadly to other animals at the park including vultures and predators who are known to feed off the dead mammals.
According to the AP, the cyanide was described as being of industrial strength and is typically used for gold mining. Poachers reportedly placed the poison in the park’s remote watering holes.
As of Tuesday, nine suspected poachers were arrested by rangers in the national park. Saviour Kasukewere, a newly appointment environment minister, announced Tuesday that harsher jail penalties for poachers can be expected.
The killings come just six months after 28 elephants were found dead in Cameroon. According to a report from the World Wildlife Fund, the animals were also killed for their ivory tusks following an increasing demand for the natural, illegally sold material in Asia. Reuters reported that the poaching took place at Nki National Park and Lobeke National Park and were reportedly carried out using automatic, AK-47 weapons.