FOUR elephants have died from fresh cyanide poisoning at Zambezi National Park - raising fears that more wild animals could be killed by poachers using the deadly chemical.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority rangers on patrol discovered the dead jumbos in the park just outside Victoria Falls along the Zambezi River early this week, an official confirmed.
Zimparks public relations manager Caroline Washaya-Moyo said the killing of the animals comes as a shock, a year following a similar poisoning incident left more than 100 jumbos dead at the Hwange National Park.
She said the parks authority learnt that the elephants were poisoned from a natural salt lick in the park, which had been laced with cyanide.
"Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority confirms that four elephants died from suspected cyanide poisoning in Zambezi National Park," said Washaya-Moyo.
"Samples were collected and have been sent to Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Harare office for further investigation." Zimparks, working with the police, EMA and Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust veterinary Chris Fogging have noted that preliminary results proved that the elephants died as a result of cyanide poisoning.
"Other species that died as a result include one cape turtle dove, one sand grouse and a vulture," Washaya-Moyo added.
Zimparks has since instituted ground and air patrols around the area as investigations into the poisoning continue.
Meanwhile, sources close to the investigations fingered Zambian poachers as the main culprits since a number of them have been shot dead on contact with parks rangers over the years.
"We suspect that this is the work of Zambian poachers. They are the ones who are always poaching in this park since they access it via the Zambezi River," said an official on condition of anonymity.
Last year in July- more than 100 elephants died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange, the country's largest national park resulting in the arrest of over 14 people mainly villagers from Tsholotsho who worked with poachers.
Some poachers were given sentences of up to 16 years in prison along with stiff fines.
Zimbabwe has one of Africa's biggest surviving elephant populations, since herds in neighbouring regions of Eastern and Central Africa have been severely damaged by poaching.
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the World Wildlife Fund, the often illegal ivory trade has resulted in an increase in elephant slaughters, with 30,000 African elephants killed each year.
The surge could be blamed on the growing demand for ivory in Asia and the United States at a time when there is a moratorium on ivory trade by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).