A South African businessman has been implicated in the recent poisoning of 64 elephants in Zimbabwe.
“Police named him only as Ishmael and that he used a Chivu farmer and ivory buyer Farai Chitsa to distribute stocks of cyanide to local people in Pelandaba and Pumula areas of Tsholotsho. Police revealed that the poachers would mix up a combination of cyanide, salt and water. This would then be poured onto salt licks at watering holes known to be frequented by elephants. At other watering holes the poachers would dig holes and place containers containing the deadly mixture into the holes.”
It seems Ishmael has been able to use this creative killing model since 2009.
Cyanide poisoning is an “effortless” killing tactic that not only destroys multiple elephants at once, but also the animals and other wildlife that feed on the elephant bodies left for dead. Critically, this tactic poisons water sources that can affect an entire population of Kenyans in nearby local villages and depending on where the poisoning occurs, key watersheds that feed large metropolitan areas.
Incidents such as this shows that poaching deaths are only a symptom of larger issues that exist. Campaigns calling for a stop to killing animals fall short of changing the economic dynamics that entice Kenyans to take part in this exchange in the first place. Many private conservation programs are keen to include education, economic, and heath initiatives that offer support for local people who without and in desperation, feel they have no choice but to kill these animals to exist or follow a tribal code of ethics.
Example: are certain pesticides and poisons available to locals over the counter? Should there be a change in how agricultural products are distributed? Even with proper legislation and management, these products can make their way into the country from those surrounding it. Almost a no win situation. I worry about this deeply as it can have such a devastating effect on the ecosystem and innocent people who are at the mercy of a few who choose to make a living in this way.
Ultimately, the demand from ivory consuming countries drives the poaching industry, but Africans and Kenyans are responsible for decimation of their own wildlife assets, and how this corresponds to their country’s economic future. What they need to understand is that the poaching business model really rewards the guy who never gets his hands dirty. It is absurdly simple -no money up front until the product delivers. No “blood” on the hands of those who make the most, while the poorest of the bunch shoots, tracks, kills, butchers the animal, risking their life and future should they be caught in the process. I can’t think of an easier way of making big money with little to no risk and investment up front supported by a willing group of people armed and ready to take part.
Maybe the poisoning tactics are the local guy’s way of making this model work a little more in their favor. Let’s hope not for Kenya’s sake.