Harare: A Zimbabwean court Wednesday sentenced three poachers up to 16 years in prison for killing 87 elephants using toxic cyanide in one of Africa's prime elephant sanctuaries, media reported.
The trio was convicted for illegal possession of ivory and contravening a law that prohibits the possession and discharge of hazardous substances, chemicals, materials or oil into the environment, Xinhua reported citing an online report by the Herald.
According to police probe, a syndicate of poachers dosed cyanide in water holes in the sprawling Hwange National Park last month and killed at least 87 elephants drinking water from the holes and indeterminate number of other animals on the food chain.
Initial reports said nine suspects were arrested, but the Herald Wednesday said only eight would appear in court. The other five suspects would stand trial next month.
The first three convicts were also ordered by Hwange provincial magistrate to each hand in $200,000-600,000 in fines by the end of the year.
Environment, Water and Climate Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, who earlier pledged a war against poaching, said on his twitter account that he welcomed "the bold stance by the Judiciary" and urged the public to preserve the country's wildlife.
Hwange is considered one of the three major wildlife sanctuaries in Africa, after Tanzania's Serengeti and South Africa's Kruger. Hwange is particularly known for its large number of elephants at 45,000, or 40 percent of the elephant population in Zimbabwe.
Poaching has been on the rise in recent years as the state national parks management agency is seriously under-funded. In Hwange alone, only 50 rangers patrol the 14,650-sq-km park, about one tenth of the number of rangers needed.