Elephants are being poisoned by poachers throughout Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. Poachers have realized that poisoning water sources, food, and salt licks are an efficient and quiet way to kill elephants. Unfortunately, this is all too common, so IEF is supporting a project to try to catch and successfully prosecute those who are responsible!

Working with the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, we are supporting the development of a toxicology testing laboratory for the region that will aid in prosecution. In order to prosecute and convict apprehended suspects, the toxin used must be identified and a quantitative value is given to show it was a lethal dose. Having the proper tools and facilities to gather that evidence is a key step in securing justice.

There is often collateral damage from these poisonings. In February, more than 102 vultures succumbed to secondary poisoning after feeding on the carcass of a poisoned elephant. Only 18 vultures were able to be saved with treatment. These kinds of tragedies negatively affect the entire ecosystem. Of the 9 main species of vultures in Africa, 4 are classified as endangered and 3 as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. While many consider vultures “disgusting”, they actually play an important role in the ecosystem by eating and cleaning up carcasses thereby preventing them from becoming breeding grounds for disease and bacteria. Moreover, vultures are slow breeders only producing one chick every 1-2 years; these kinds of massive hits to vultures in a single region can be devastating for population health. Vultures also help catch poachers by helping to identify carcass locations. They often find an elephant carcass within 30 minutes of death, hence rangers will pay close attention to vulture activity and use it to respond to incidents of poaching. This usefulness is one of the reasons vultures are poisoned.

In order to teach the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, why all animals need to be protected, and encourage the communities to rally against poachers, this project has an education component. They are teaching local school children about toxins, poaching, and coexistence with wildlife. Teaching the next generation to be good stewards of the land will hopefully make a real impact on the sustainable protection of wildlife. Until then, we will do everything we can to successfully prosecute the poachers of today.