Poachers have killed nearly 90 elephants in Zimbabwe over the last four months by poisoning them with cyanide, the country's Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said Wednesday.
Since May, the bodies of 87 elephants have been discovered in Hwange National Park, Caroline Washaya-Mayo, PWMA spokeswoman, told CNN
. The poachers reportedly poisoned natural salt licks with cyanide in order to strip the elephants of their valuable and highly sought-after ivory tusks.
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Officials are pushing for stiffer penalties for poachers as illegal wildlife hunting becomes a bigger problem in the African nation. Saviour Kasukuwere, Zimbabwe's newly appointed Environmental Minister, has vowed to crack down on elephant poaching in particular.
"That will be one of my missions in the new parliament, given the recent case of elephants which were poisoned by poachers," Kasukuwere told CNN.
Some believe harsher punishments would serve as a deterrent to others.
"They need to be given some extensive jail time. If it was, they wouldn't carry on doing it," Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told CNN.
Poaching kills an elephant every 15 minutes, according to a study by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
"Elephants were killed for their ivory in record numbers in 2011 and 2012, and some rhinoceros subspecies have become extinct or are on the verge of extinction," the study said. "Rangers are regularly killed by poachers, and some of the world's poorest countries continue to see their wildlife decimated for the black market in wild animals and parts. Meanwhile, the profits realized from the illegal trade in wildlife have surged to levels once reserved for legally traded precious metals. Criminal and violent groups around the world have become the main actors exploiting this global industry."
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