The stench of rotting elephant carcasses hangs in the air in western Zimbabwe, where wildlife officials say at least 91 elephants were poisoned with cyanide by poachers who hack off the tusks for the lucrative illegal ivory market.
Massive bones, some already bleached by the blistering sun in the Hwange National Park, litter the landscape around one remote watering hole where 18 carcasses were found.
Officials say cyanide used in gold mining was spread by poachers over flat “salt pans,” also known as natural, mineral-rich salt licks. They say lions, hyenas and vultures have died from feeding on contaminated carcasses or drinking nearby.
“The magnitude of what we are witnessing today is much higher than what has occurred previously,” environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere told reporters on a trip to the park Monday.
Cyanide attacks the bloodstream, kills almost instantly and causes rapid decomposition. Most of the poisoned elephants died in the past month. The chemical is commonly used by illegal gold panners to separate the metal from surrounding ore and is easily available.