AT LEAST 81 elephants have been killed for their ivory tusks by poachers using cyanide poison in water holes at Hwange National Park, a minister said on Tuesday.
Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi, speaking in Harare after touring the vast wildlife sanctuary, said more elephant carcasses were discovered after a first count of more than 40 earlier in the month.
Wildlife department officials said industrial cyanide, used in gold mining, was put in the park's remote water holes, killing smaller animals drinking there and vultures and other predators feeding on the dead animals.
Nine alleged poachers were arrested after rangers tracked them to a cache of ivory hidden in the park.
Newly-appointed environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere has vowed harsher jail penalties for poachers.
"For us we are obviously going to raise more resources to enable parks to work. That is the first thing. We are also going to raise more awareness in communities and we are going to engage the Judiciary so that we make it very difficult for the poachers through stringent and deterrent jail sentences," Kasukuwere said.
Mzembi said he was concerned about the effects of the developing ecological disaster at Hwange on the country's tourism sector.
"Our tourism is based on wildlife and tourists want to come and see our wildlife and not our hotels. If the biodiversity disappears, then we will have nothing left," Mzembi told reporters.
"We have seen that we have no capacity to respond to a disaster of this nature. Going forward, we need to find resources to recapitalise and increase the capacity of this important tourism stakeholder."