Earlier this month, authorities in Zimbabwe arrested three men responsible for the poisoning deaths of 81 elephants, and an untold number of unintended wildlife victims -- one of many crimes against nature being fueled by the illicit ivory trade.
On Wednesday, they were sentenced to serve 15 years in jail and pay fines of $800,000.
As elephant poaching has ramped up in recent years, with some 36,000 elephants being killed just last year alone, African nations are stiffening the penalties for illegal hunters -- which, in some cases, had amounted to just two years in jail. Conservationists hope that lengthier jail sentences will discourage poachers from targeting elephants to profit from their ivory.And discouragement is desperately needed. A few short decades ago, there were an estimated 1.3 million elephants in Africa. After decades of rampant poaching that number has been slashed by more than half -- and given current trends, that iconic species could be wiped out entirely in just 12 years.
To make matters worse, poachers have begun to turn to poisoning water holes with cyanide to kill elephants en masse, with lethal consequences that permeate throughout the surrounding ecosystem claiming the lives of countless other animals.