Almost 90 elephants have been slaughtered by poachers who poisoned them with industrial cyanide, authorities in Zimbabwe said Wednesday.
Rangers in the Hwange National Park discovered the carcasses of more than 40 of the gentle giants earlier this month and they continue to find bodies in recent weeks.
Park spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo told NBC News that 87 corpses had been found so far, all with their tusks removed.
“Industrial cyanide used in gold mining was put in remote water holes and on salty ground that the elephants like to lick after drinking the water,” she said. “The poison was killing them and they were taking the tusks.”
She added that smaller animals, vultures and predators feeding on the dead animals had also died as a result of the poison, adding that they feared more elephant victims would be found in the park, around 450 miles west of the country’s capital, Harare.
Nine Zimbabwean nationals were arrested August 29, after rangers tracked them to a cache of ivory and Washaya-Mayo said five remain in custody and police to investigate.
They are expected to face trial later this week.
She added that 51 tusks, from a possible 174 had so far been recovered.
Drew McVey, African species expert at the World Wildlife Fund called the killings “truly horrendous” and called for urgent action to be taken against the poaching.
The organisation said 2011 saw the highest number of elephant deaths due to poaching since the 1980’s and they expected that to get worse this year.