JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A rhinoceros poacher in a South Africa wildlife preserve was stomped to death by an elephant and eaten by lions, authorities said.
Rangers at Kruger National Park found his skull and trousers.
The man and two others were hunting for rhinos illegally last week when the elephant surprised them and trampled him, park spokesman Isaac Phaahla said. The two companions dragged his body to a spot near a road and told the man’s family what happened.
“Poaching is a serious, ongoing problem in the park,” Phaahla said of Kruger, which covers 7,500 square miles in southeastern South Africa, making it about the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey.
The world’s rhinos are in danger of being hunted to extinction. They are prized for their horns, which are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine as a supposed cure for a variety of ailments.
South Africa, which has about 80% of the world’s remaining rhinos, has seen aggressive poaching of the animals in recent years. Last year 769 rhinos were killed illegally, down from more than 1,000 annually since 2013, according to Save the Rhino.
After the death of the poacher, whose name and nationality were not released, relatives asked park officials to help recover the body. Rangers searched on the ground and by air but did not find the remains before it got dark, Phaahla said. The two surviving hunters gave officials a more precise description of where they left the dead man. Police arrested them on suspicion of poaching.
“The next day, our field rangers searched in the bush and made the gruesome discovery,” Phaahla said. “There was a pride of lion nearby which apparently had devoured his body.”
Police said they seized guns and ammunition from the surviving men. They appeared in court and were charged with illegal possession of firearms, trespassing in the park and conspiracy to poach.
“On most days, we have close to 15 poaching groups of three individuals each who are hunting illegally for rhinos,” Phaahla said. “Our rangers are well-trained and making progress in controlling the poaching.”