That’s right, loyal readers: At least 300 elephants were killed in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park after poachers contaminated salty areas close to reliable watering holes for their precious ivory tusks…

These African elephants depended on the salty mineral deposits for their nutritional intake of sodium as a makeshift “salt lick,” leading poachers to invent a rather ingenious and near-effortless method of taking down these dangerous animals. After creating a mixture of industrial cyanide (used for gold mining), water and salt, the criminals would pour the toxic mixture all over the elephant’s salt lick areas.

At least forty cyanide-poisoned elephant carcasses have been found in the park this month alone, with the remaining casualties piling up over previous weeks. Note that several dead juvenile elephants were discovered with their tusks intact, but only because they apparently weren’t “worth the effort” to remove them. Park rangers have noted that when vultures and another scavengers fed from these elephants, they quickly died from consuming cyanide contaminated flesh, making the slaughtered beasts an ecological biohazard.

Any poacher caught by Zimbabwean law enforcement faces a lengthy prison sentence and a $50,000 fine for each dead elephant, but the reward of relatively easy money to Chinese buyers (About 40% of the global ivory trade is based in China) is still worth the risk for these poachers. Between the wonton killing of the elephants and the toxic threat left over for the lions, leopards, vultures, buffalos and other animals drinking the water and eating the elephants, the introduction of cyanide to the ivory trade could be devastating to the local ecology. Here’s hoping that the resulting crackdown discourages future incidents!

UPDATE:  I've got some more bad news for you guys- While the initial estimate was around 87 dead elephants, The Telegraph just reported that the number has ballooned to over 300 individuals and counting. Keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up story on this horrible incident as it continues to unfold... 

Sources:  The New Zealand Herald, NBC News, CNN

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