Darcy Ogada has studied the animals of Africa for a long time, but this might be the worst of times yet. She is fighting to document and put a stop to a new form of hunting and poaching: poisoning. The poisons make for easy money in selling animal parts to eastern Asian markets, but they have tragic consequences for any other animals that disturb the corpses of elephants and rhinos.
Last Sunday, two elephants silently succumbed to poisoning outside Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia. In mid-July, four jumbos were poisoned in Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe when their salt lick was laced with cyanide. This was reminiscent of the decimation of 103 elephants through cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in October 2013.One of four elephants poisoned for ivory in October 2013 in Zambia. Note some of the 476 vultures poisoned in the background. (Photo by E. Sayer)
Poachers used to favour AK-47s; now they favour poison.
Why? Because poison is cheap, highly effective, easy and legal to obtain, easily transported, and most importantly, no one will hear the impact of an elephant or rhino succumbing to poisoning. It will suffer in silence, its carcass only to be found days or weeks later, long after the perpetrators have hauled away their prize. Alongside the carcass will be the hundreds of scavenging vultures, hyenas, eagles and jackals that will never make the headlines.
I keep a database of wildlife poisoning incidents across Africa. I used to record only vulture poisonings, now I record everything. There’s not an elephant poisoning I’ve recorded where I haven’t also recorded at least one, but usually hundreds, of vultures killed. The use of poison is indiscriminate—it kills everything.
Ask anyone involved in the fight against poaching in Africa and you will hear a common refrain—the increasing use of poisons to kill elephants and rhinos. Hundreds have been killed in this way across East and southern Africa in the last year alone. The most commonly used poisons include cyanide, carbofuran, and aldicarb. The highly toxic compounds are sprinkled on pachyderm delicacies such as watermelons and pumpkins, poured into waterholes, and used to lace salt licks and arrowheads.
Elephant and rhino poaching is at record levels due to the insatiable demand for ivory and rhino horn from the Far East. It is set to get a whole lot worse now that poachers have turned to poisons. The time is now for African governments to enforce strict regulation of these potent chemicals. If not, my son will have to travel to the back streets of Hanoi and Shanghai to find the remains of his African heritage.