Scores of elephants have been killed in Zimbabwe's national parks solely for their valuable ivory tusks, with experts citing the deaths as a crisis.
Since May, 87 elephant carcasses have been found in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, according to Caroline Washaya-Moyo, public relations manager for the country's Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
But poachers are turning to new methods that are killing the elephants in large numbers at a time. Poachers are using cyanide to poison natural salt licks resulting in many elephants to be killed at one time.
So far the wildlife authority revealed that it has recovered 51 tusks, leaving poachers with 123 to sell. Still, local police believe they will find more dead elephants in the months to come.
Zimbabwe's newly appointed Environment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere has insisted that harsher jail terms for poachers will be "one of my missions in the new parliament, given the recent case of elephants which were poisoned by poachers."
The anti-poaching organization, Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, is also supportive of stricter penalties for poaching. With greater consequences, "they wouldn't carry on doing it," said the organizations chairman, Johnny Rodrigues.
The use of cyanide also poses a risk for other wildlife in the park that may happen to feed on the elephants or consumes contaminated water sources.
"When other animals and birds feed on the rotting elephant carcasses, they will also die from the poison," Rodrigues said. "Hundreds of animals are now at risk."
Poaching syndicates in Zimbabwe "have become sophisticated and need appropriate responses to effectively deal with them," he added
The International Fund for Animal Welfare published a major poaching study this year and found that an elephant is killed by poachers every 15 minutes.
"Elephants were killed for their ivory in record numbers in 2011 and 2012, and some rhinoceros subspecies have become extinct or are on the verge of extinction," it said.