At least 22 more elephants - including babies - have been poisoned to death by poachers in Zimbabwe, it was today revealed, as conservationists struggle to stem a spate of deadly attacks.
The animals' carcasses were discovered in Hwange National Park's Sinamatella area alongside 35 tusks, said Caroline Washaya-Moyo, spokeswoman for the parks and wildlife management authority.
The poachers, who apparently killed the elephants with cyanide, escaped with three ivory tusks.
The grim finding - made by park rangers yesterday morning - brings the number of elephants poisoned by poachers in the southern Africa country in October alone to a staggering 62.
'We recovered 22 elephant carcasses in the Sinamatela area and so far we have also recovered 35 tusks,' Washaya-Moyo told AFP. 'Initial investigations indicate that there was cyanide poisoning.'
She added: 'We continue to lobby for deterrent penalties for people found with poisonous substances such as cyanide. We can't continue to lose wildlife at such a rate.'
Rangers are now investigating how many of the elephants - who resided at the same park as Cecil the lion, who was shot dead by dentist Walter Palmer in July - had fully developed tusks.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Washaya-Moyo said: 'We are now trying to check how many elephants had fully developed tusks because babies are among those killed.
'The rate at which we are losing animals to cyanide is alarming. Many other species are also dying from the cyanide used by poachers to target elephants. We are appealing to people in communities close to national parks to cooperate with authorities.'
The latest attacks come less than two weeks after 26 elephants died from poisoning in two separate incidents outside the park, in the resort town of Kariba and near Zimbabwe's border with Botswana.
The three killed in Kariba died from cyanide put in oranges. And last month, at least 14 elephants died of poisoning in various attacks.
In the wake of the poisonings, officials recovered 2.2lbs of poison from the elephants' habitats.
Poaching is common in Zimbabwe's game parks. Elephants and rhino are the main targets for poachers because of their tusks and horns, which are smuggled to eastern Asian countries.
Last year, more than 300 elephants died in suspected cyanide poisonings.
Washaya-Moyo said the parks agency is hoping that trained dogs from South Africa and the deployment of drones will help tighten monitoring of the vast, wildlife-rich park.
Earlier this month, Zimbabwe Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri blamed a ban on elephant sport hunting by the U.S. for increased poaching in the country.
'All this poaching is because of American policies, they are banning sport hunting.
'An elephant would cost $120,000 in sport hunting but a tourist pays only $10 to view the same elephant,' she said, adding money from sport hunting is crucial in conservation efforts.
Yesterday, the national parks announced that, over the weekend, officials at Harare International Airport seized 380 pounds of ivory, worth $43,250, that was about to be smuggled to Singapore.
Three Zimbabweans and a Malian national were arrested over the smuggling bid, officials said.
Source: Poachers kill at least 22 more elephants, bringing total number poisoned this month to 62 (27/10/15)