Poachers have devised a sinister and cowardly way of killing African elephants: They are poisoning them with cyanide.

At least 100 African elephants have been poisoned in recent days, and that’s from just one place in Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park. Hwange is the largest game reserve in the nation.

Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told Discovery News that the poachers “placed salt laced with cyanide around the water holes where the elephants drink. The elephants eat the salt and die from the poison.”

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He added that there were eight poachers, with three caught and sentenced so far:

Robert Maphosa, 42, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison with labor.

Thabani Zondo, 24, was sentenced to 15 years and was also asked to pay a fine to National Parks by December of this year.

Deanie Tsuma, 25, was also sentenced to 15 years and asked to pay a fine to National Parks by December of this year.

Cyanide leads to an agonizing death for the elephants, which fall to the ground where poachers can then remove the valuable tusks.

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Rodrigues said, “The other problem is that when other animals and birds feed on the rotting elephant carcasses, they will also die from the poison. Hundreds of animals are now at risk. The police suspect that there could be more elephant carcasses in the park that have not yet been discovered.”

He added, “We are expecting the death toll to keep rising.”

Police have recovered some 17 tusks from the dead elephants. The tusks were likely to have been shipped out of Africa for the Asian market, where they can fetch many thousands of dollars.

It is estimated that unless the killing of elephants stops, these animals will become extinct within 10 years.

The leaders of six African countries — Uganda, Burkino Faso, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Tanzania — met with U.S. representatives this week to pledge their support to end the problem.

But unless parks can gain the upper hand over poachers, the killing of elephants will continue.

(Image: Paul Mannix)