Zimbabwe's elephant populations are under threat as more protected areas are seized for political and military reasons, according to an animal advocacy group's commissioned report.
One of the continent's last safe places for the animal, Zimbabwe has bigger elephant populations than other African countries, but losing protected areas could make the elephants vulnerable to ivory poaching, The Associated Press reported.
Born Free USA, a nonprofit research group, revealed in the new study that President Robert Mugabe's ruling party may be connected to wildlife trafficking, which has become an illicit worldwide market. The report commissioned from Washington-based C4ADS was released on Monday.
Around 23,000 elephants, or roughly 60 each day, were killed in 2013 north of Zimbabwe in central Africa. The animals are desired for their ivory tusks, which can sell for $1,500 a pound on the black market.
Between 47,000 and 93,000 elephants are currently living in Zimbabwe, according to the most recent figures from TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network; however, a spokesman told the AP that surveys haven't been conducted since 2007.
Africa as a whole has only around 500,000 elephants, far fewer than the population of 10 million that roamed the continent just a century ago.
The illegal market for wildlife trafficking, which also includes rhinoceros horns, is enabled and influenced by political and business interests, the AP reported. According to the new C4ADS report, Zimbabweans may be looking to ivory elephant tusks as a newly lucrative method after certain economic penalties were imposed by the U.S. and Europe.
"Our findings shine a bright light on Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sudan and Kenya, where poachers move across borders with near impunity, slaughter elephants with complete disregard, and use the ivory to fund violent operations across the continent," Born Free USA CEO Adam Roberts told the AP.
"Global leaders cannot stand by while the human tragedy and poaching crisis continue."