Warning: Some readers may find these images distressing.
More than 22 elephants – including babies – were found lying dead in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, with their heads hacked off and their tusks gone. Park rangers discovered the mutilated animals in Sinamatella area of the northwestern park earlier this week. The giant creatures were reportedly poisoned with cyanide before being slaughtered.
While such atrocities are a recurring incident in the park, with authorities putting the blame on poachers and hunters who kill off the endangered animals for their tusks, it looks like unruly smugglers are not the only ones responsible for the carnage.
Sources from within the park revealed that some frustrated and cash-strapped employees are poisoning the very animals they are supposed to protect, as a form of protest over their extremely poor salaries.
“I am afraid there are serious management problems within parks,” a source told The Telegraph. “Some of the rangers are very dissatisfied with their remuneration and say that they are not getting some allowances they believe they should get. So many of us believe that some of the poaching at the moment is organized and executed by some rangers in parks, and we don't know how this will be sorted out.”
More than 60 elephants have died from cyanide hidden in salt licks and oranges in Zimbabwe in the past month alone, and this latest butchery just adds to the toll.
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“They [rangers] are angry because of lack of allowances,” said Headman Sibanda, a well-known hunter charged with allowing an American doctor to conduct an illegal hunt against Cecil the lion. “Some of them believe they should be getting allowances and they are not, but some senior management are getting allowances unfairly.”
Sibanda believes some rangers are involved in the spate of poisonings, adding that the men risk their lives fighting off heavily armed poachers, but they aren’t paid enough – or most of the time, they don’t get paid at all.
“We counted elephants in Hwange National Park in September and days after we finished the first poisoning in the park was discovered just eight kilometers from the Main Camp (where Hwange rangers are headquartered),” explained local elephant counter Colin Gilles. “This is not a remote part of the camp.”
He believes that even if the rangers aren’t directly involved in poisoning and slaughtering the animals, they are certainly turning a blind-eye toward the poachers.
Moreover, only four tusks were taken from the latest elephants killed, which suggests that the poachers were either disturbed, or that there was another reason the elephants were poisoned.
The authorities have arrested two rangers on suspicion of poisoning the elephants. One of them earns just $430 a month, whereas a single elephant can yield 10 kilograms of ivory with a market value of around $30,000.
However, the question remains if the rangers continue to slaughter or aid in the killings of the elephants, how much do they think they will be paid when there is nothing left to protect?