Changing Planet

Poisons and Poaching: A Deadly Mix Requiring Urgent Action

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.

Elephant poisoned for ivory in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe alongside 191 vultures in July 2012. Photo by R. Groom
Elephant poisoned for ivory in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe alongside 191 vultures in July 2012. (Photo by R. Groom)

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.

Read More By Darcy Ogada

Darcy has worked for The Peregrine Fund’s Africa Program since 2010 and is based in central Kenya. Most of her current work focuses on the conservation of vultures and owls. She is particularly passionate about ending the scourge of wildlife poisoning and stopping the illegal trafficking of owl eggs for belief-based uses in East Africa. Prior to joining The Peregrine Fund she undertook a post-doctoral fellowship with the Smithsonian Institution based at Mpala Research Centre, Kenya. She has studied Mackinder’s Eagle Owls in central Kenya and conducted other research on birds and rodents. She volunteered for the Peace Corps in Niger in 1995 and got her start studying wildlife as a Bald Eagle Nestwatcher for New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. She came to Kenya in 2000 where she has lived ever since. Before moving to Kenya she was an avid skier and ice hockey player, now she spends her free time swimming, birding, and hiking and exploring Africa’s mountains with her son. She’s actively involved in a host of local conservation issues as a member of Nature Kenya’s Bird Committee and the Kenya Wildlife Service Bird Taskforce.
  • Hennie Bezuidenhout

    A very cowardly way of poaching! Sad, very sad…

  • Val McClean

    This really has upset me ever so much, when will these governments show real concern & ensure that the disgraceful actions of poachers & even more so the actions of China & other countries start acting humanely! Damn them all!

  • Lisa Groeneweg

    Thank you for your important work Darcy.

  • Andrew Mortlock


  • Andrew Planet

    @NatGeo Why cannot they be taught that they are going to be making more money in a few years time by drugging the animals to sleep, rather? If the animals can be put to sleep with drugs from dart guns the horn or ivory would regrow and they would have a sustainable resource without killing them. Seeing as many of the gamekeepers were former poachers there are already in place advantageous avenues for an international government backed market in such sales. To not instruct poachers with memes to prevent the extinction of species just because some people who know nothing about human or other animal nature is tantamount to condoning their total elimination from this Earth. If species are going to go extinct because of a misguided sense of political correctness, as in cut horns don’t aesthetically look good, I don’t want to play a part in that.

  • don sayers

    Poison some of the ignorant government officials of the countries where this happens, feed the poachers to the hyenas while they are alive and shoot the stupid ******* who are buying the ivory. If you need someone to do this: call me.

  • Jean Albini

    My mind cannot wrap itself around the fact that humanity has degraded to this point. Where are the souls of these people? Is it so easy to dispose of such beautiful creatures in such a despicable way – how do they sleep at night?! Karma is a bitch – I hope they get it 10 fold!!!

  • pankaj Sharma

    Wish too kill all that bastards…

  • Careth Wilson

    This makes me feel so sad and helpless in helping animals that cannot speak out or protect themselves.

  • Science Teacher

    I agree with Andrew Planet! Additionally, this need to be politically correct and respect cultures is preventing people for calling out the source of poaching- the Asian market for these items. I have no qualms about saying that I have zero need to respect the culture that uses these ill-gotten, in humane items as a part of their religion/cultural beliefs. We’re going to politically correct ourselves and the rest of our planet into extinction!

  • Ian Smith

    Actions like this are one of the few things that I become deeply sadden and frustrated with humanity over. It can initially be tempting to just ‘hate’ those who perform these selfish, needless killings yet I assume they do this not because of any pleasure they may derive from poaching but because of the lucrative opportunity co-created by people. So, how as individuals in countries that don’t support this trade can we help in ending it?

  • Laura

    It makes me feel physically sick of I see these pictures.
    When is this going to stop? When it is too late?
    How can we destroy paradise.. How is it possible humans became like this. I feel depressed.

  • Concerned Human

    This behavior is disgusting and should not be tolerated. Governments of developed nations should band together and solve this problem, even if the solution involves killing all of the poachers.

  • Lisa Potyokl

    I’m speechless and sad….how could they let this happened to these animals, it breaks my heart that people can be so heartless and mean! I hope they fix this soon before all animals are gone.
    Karma is a B***h!!! Hope those poachers and the people who bought from them get what they deserve!!!!!!

  • Roy Buksh

    Man is good for nothing without Animals By Ecosystems

  • Pádráig O’Gáirmléadháigh

    Man is good for nothing but destruction and evil. Mother Nature will eventually right this, her most expensive mistake, Mankind!

  • Renato Vargas

    malditos humanos ,presos del dinero

  • Barbara

    Is this the tipping point where man has totally lost all sanity. I am Ill — sick and so sad. How are such magnificant creatures so disrespected. Man is a disaster. How do we turn it around ??

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media