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Elephants poisoned with cyanide-laced food in Zimbabwe

Suspected poachers have killed 14 wild elephants in Zimbabwe by lacing food with cyanide and leaving it as bait in two national parks. Poaching is increasing daily, police say.

In the first instance, six elephants were found dead with their tusks removed in Hwange National Park, 600 kilometers (372 miles) west of the capital, Harare, authorities said on Tuesday.

After discovering the first group of bodies on September 26, the rangers also came across five more elephant carcasses less than a week later. The dead animals still had their tusks, suggesting that the alleged poachers were disrupted.

Poisoned oranges

In a separate incident, the authorities in Matusadona National Park also found three dead elephants whose kidney and liver samples tested positive for cyanide.

In all three cases, the suspected poachers spiked food with cyanide, leaving poisoned oranges, maize cobs and salt sticks as bait for the pachyderms, said Caroline Washaya-Moyo, spokeswoman for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

"No arrests have been made in all the cases and investigations are still in progress," she added.

The Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project, a private organization, offered $400 for information

leading to arrest and conviction

of the poisoners.

Cyanide is a commonly used chemical in Zimbabwean mining industry and is therefore easy to obtain.

Poaching on the rise

The Hwange National Park first captured headlines in July this year, after an American dentist killed its most famous animal, Cecil the lion. Despite the international outrage,

poaching in western Zimbabwe

remains a serious concern.

"We have had a number of poaching activities in the province, they are actually increasing each day," said Clement Munoriarwa, police commander for Mashonaland West province, on state television.

Smuggling a python skin

Traditionally, poachers in the African country have used firearms and traps to get ivory. This changed in 2013, after a group of poachers laced salt pans with cyanide targeting the elephants in Hwange.

Hundreds of elephants have died in the incident, conservation activists claim, although the official figures are much lower.

On Tuesday, authorities arrested a Zambian who was allegedly trying to smuggle 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of ivory from Zimbabwe to South Africa. The ivory would reach $6,320 (5,600 euros) on the South African market.

The Zambian was also carrying a 3 meter (10 feet) python skin, national parks spokeswoman Washaya-Moyo said.

dj/jr (AP, Reuters)

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