Image: Hugo van der Westerhuizen

Poachers have been using poison to kill off elephants — and it is now impacting other species in the animal kingdom.

The recent mass elephant poisoning in Hwange National Park brought poaching with poison back into the spotlight. While rifle shots easily alert park rangers to a poacher’s location, poison can be used as a quiet, effective substitute. 

Predators and scavengers often feed on these poisoned remains — which introduces a bigger problem into the ecosystem and serves as a threat to other endangered species. A report in Discover Wildlife outlines the recent deaths of 94 endangered vultures after feeding on an elephant carcass in Zimbabwe. 

Experts from the Frankfurt Zoological Society are attempting to identify the pesticide which was thought to have been consumed by the elephant through a watermelon. There are other theories surrounding the poisoning of the vultures, one being that the elephant carcass was poisoned intentionally.

Circling vultures can easily attract a park ranger’s attention to a poaching operation, so some poachers poison carcasses directly in order to manage the scavenger situation. This particular incident occurred near the border of Mozambique, a common ground for illegal wildlife trade between the countries.

“The tusks of the elephant were removed,” stated Frankfort Zoological Society’s Hugo van der Westerhuizen to Discover Wildlife, “so not sure whether the cause of the vulture deaths is an accidental, secondary poisoning, or a deliberate lacing of the carcass to cause their deaths.”

This is a huge blow to Africa’s vulture population. Seven of the eleven vulture species in the country are listed as Endangered, with four recognized as Critically Endangered.