Poisons and Poaching: A Deadly Mix Requiring Urgent Action

Darcy Ogada has studied the animals of Africa for a long time, but this might be the worst of times yet. She is fighting to document and put a stop to a new form of hunting and poaching: poisoning. The poisons make for easy money in selling animal parts to eastern Asian markets, but they have tragic consequences for any other animals that disturb the corpses of elephants and rhinos.

Last Sunday, two elephants silently succumbed to poisoning outside Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia. In mid-July, four jumbos were poisoned in Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe when their salt lick was laced with cyanide. This was reminiscent of the decimation of 103 elephants through cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in October 2013.

One of four elephants poisoned for ivory in October 2013 in Zambia.  Note some of the 476 vultures poisoned in the background. Photo by E. Sayer
One of four elephants poisoned for ivory in October 2013 in Zambia. Note some of the 476 vultures poisoned in the background. (Photo by E. Sayer)

Poachers used to favour AK-47s; now they favour poison.

Why? Because poison is cheap, highly effective, easy and legal to obtain, easily transported, and most importantly, no one will hear the impact of an elephant or rhino succumbing to poisoning. It will suffer in silence, its carcass only to be found days or weeks later, long after the perpetrators have hauled away their prize. Alongside the carcass will be the hundreds of scavenging vultures, hyenas, eagles and jackals that will never make the headlines.

I keep a database of wildlife poisoning incidents across Africa. I used to record only vulture poisonings, now I record everything. There’s not an elephant poisoning I’ve recorded where I haven’t also recorded at least one, but usually hundreds, of vultures killed. The use of poison is indiscriminate—it kills everything.

Elephant poisoned for ivory in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe alongside 191 vultures in July 2012. Photo by R. Groom
Elephant poisoned for ivory in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe alongside 191 vultures in July 2012. (Photo by R. Groom)

Ask anyone involved in the fight against poaching in Africa and you will hear a common refrain—the increasing use of poisons to kill elephants and rhinos. Hundreds have been killed in this way across East and southern Africa in the last year alone. The most commonly used poisons include cyanide, carbofuran, and aldicarb. The highly toxic compounds are sprinkled on pachyderm delicacies such as watermelons and pumpkins, poured into waterholes, and used to lace salt licks and arrowheads.

Elephant and rhino poaching is at record levels due to the insatiable demand for ivory and rhino horn from the Far East. It is set to get a whole lot worse now that poachers have turned to poisons. The time is now for African governments to enforce strict regulation of these potent chemicals. If not, my son will have to travel to the back streets of Hanoi and Shanghai to find the remains of his African heritage.

Read More By Darcy Ogada


  1. Barbara
    Los Angeles
    October 28, 2015, 12:32 am

    Is this the tipping point where man has totally lost all sanity. I am Ill — sick and so sad. How are such magnificant creatures so disrespected. Man is a disaster. How do we turn it around ??

  2. Kaustubh Vinze
    Mumbai India
    August 26, 2014, 3:42 am

    This disgusting act goes to prove time and again that man is he most cruel, selfish and uncivilized creature on this planet.

  3. Agnieszka
    August 26, 2014, 3:42 am

    Is there any way we could put a stop to this? How can we help you Darcy?

  4. Renato Vargas
    Arequipa, Peru
    August 25, 2014, 3:58 pm

    malditos humanos ,presos del dinero

  5. Pádráig O'Gáirmléadháigh
    August 25, 2014, 6:29 am

    Man is good for nothing but destruction and evil. Mother Nature will eventually right this, her most expensive mistake, Mankind!

  6. Roy Buksh
    Rome Italy
    August 25, 2014, 1:05 am

    Man is good for nothing without Animals By Ecosystems

  7. Lisa Potyokl
    Ontario, Canada
    August 25, 2014, 12:05 am

    I’m speechless and sad….how could they let this happened to these animals, it breaks my heart that people can be so heartless and mean! I hope they fix this soon before all animals are gone.
    Karma is a B***h!!! Hope those poachers and the people who bought from them get what they deserve!!!!!!

  8. Concerned Human
    August 24, 2014, 6:10 pm

    This behavior is disgusting and should not be tolerated. Governments of developed nations should band together and solve this problem, even if the solution involves killing all of the poachers.

  9. Laura
    August 24, 2014, 5:31 pm

    It makes me feel physically sick of I see these pictures.
    When is this going to stop? When it is too late?
    How can we destroy paradise.. How is it possible humans became like this. I feel depressed.

  10. Ian Smith
    United States
    August 24, 2014, 5:31 pm

    Actions like this are one of the few things that I become deeply sadden and frustrated with humanity over. It can initially be tempting to just ‘hate’ those who perform these selfish, needless killings yet I assume they do this not because of any pleasure they may derive from poaching but because of the lucrative opportunity co-created by people. So, how as individuals in countries that don’t support this trade can we help in ending it?

  11. Science Teacher
    August 23, 2014, 5:29 pm

    I agree with Andrew Planet! Additionally, this need to be politically correct and respect cultures is preventing people for calling out the source of poaching- the Asian market for these items. I have no qualms about saying that I have zero need to respect the culture that uses these ill-gotten, in humane items as a part of their religion/cultural beliefs. We’re going to politically correct ourselves and the rest of our planet into extinction!

  12. Careth Wilson
    denver, co
    August 23, 2014, 2:59 pm

    This makes me feel so sad and helpless in helping animals that cannot speak out or protect themselves.

  13. pankaj Sharma
    August 23, 2014, 1:35 pm

    Wish too kill all that bastards…

  14. Jean Albini
    August 22, 2014, 9:34 pm

    My mind cannot wrap itself around the fact that humanity has degraded to this point. Where are the souls of these people? Is it so easy to dispose of such beautiful creatures in such a despicable way – how do they sleep at night?! Karma is a bitch – I hope they get it 10 fold!!!

  15. don sayers
    Ontario Canada
    August 19, 2014, 9:30 pm

    Poison some of the ignorant government officials of the countries where this happens, feed the poachers to the hyenas while they are alive and shoot the stupid ******* who are buying the ivory. If you need someone to do this: call me.

  16. Andrew Planet
    La Linea, Spain
    August 19, 2014, 5:37 pm

    @NatGeo Why cannot they be taught that they are going to be making more money in a few years time by drugging the animals to sleep, rather? If the animals can be put to sleep with drugs from dart guns the horn or ivory would regrow and they would have a sustainable resource without killing them. Seeing as many of the gamekeepers were former poachers there are already in place advantageous avenues for an international government backed market in such sales. To not instruct poachers with memes to prevent the extinction of species just because some people who know nothing about human or other animal nature is tantamount to condoning their total elimination from this Earth. If species are going to go extinct because of a misguided sense of political correctness, as in cut horns don’t aesthetically look good, I don’t want to play a part in that.

  17. Andrew Mortlock
    August 18, 2014, 4:27 am


  18. Lisa Groeneweg
    August 17, 2014, 3:25 pm

    Thank you for your important work Darcy.

  19. Val McClean
    August 17, 2014, 2:34 pm

    This really has upset me ever so much, when will these governments show real concern & ensure that the disgraceful actions of poachers & even more so the actions of China & other countries start acting humanely! Damn them all!

  20. Hennie Bezuidenhout
    Johannesburg,South Africa
    August 17, 2014, 8:31 am

    A very cowardly way of poaching! Sad, very sad…