The animals of South Africa’s Kruger National Park don’t follow human laws, obviously. And they surely do not know that there is a prohibition against poaching. Still, they seem to have some sense of the concept of justice if their treatment of a recent illegal visitor is any indication.
On April 5, Kruger National Park issued a statement saying that rangers had located the remains of a suspected rhinoceros poacher who was killed by elephants. There was “very little” left of the man, who has not been named by authorities, only “a human skull and a pair of pants.” Park officials believe that he was eaten by a pride of lions after his fatal encounter with elephants.
The man’s family alerted park authorities to his death on April 2 after his companions—four suspected poachers who have since been arrested—called them with the news. The The relatives requested the rangers’ help in locating the man’s remains. The authorities the arranged search parties by air and on foot, but rangers were unable to see anything in the dwindling light. It took two more days until the search parties finally located the remnants of the body near the “crocodile bridge” section of the park.
“Entering Kruger National Park illegally and on foot is not wise, it holds many dangers and this incident is evidence of that,” park managing executive Glenn Phillips said in the statement.
But it’s not clear that the prospect of such a grisly death will be enough to convince poachers to stay away.
Rhino poaching is a lucrative business, and demand for the animals took a drastic upswing in Asia in 2008, particularly in Vietnam. A 2013 article in The Atlantic traces the renewed enthusiasm for rhino horn to rumors in Vietnam that an elixir that included powdered rhino horn helped cure a politician’s cancer. Last year, China lifted a ban in place since 1993 that limited the use of the horns in research for scientific and medical purposes. And according to the New York Times (paywall), a pound of rhino horn now sells for about $9,000 in the illegal market.
South Africa is home to more than 80% of the world’s rhinos, and most of the poaching takes place at Kruger National Park, 12,300 square miles of protected habitat on the north-east border with Mozambique. Between 2007 and 2014, rhino poaching incidents rose by 9,000% in the park. Since 2008, more than 7,000 rhinos have been hunted illegally, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.
The good news is that poaching in South Africa has declined over the past few years. In 2018 there were 769 recorded incidents, down from more than 1,000 in 2017, according to British nonprofit Save the Rhino. Still, animal advocates aren’t celebrating yet. The creatures still have plenty to fear from people, and rhino supporters can only hope that the latest story of a poacher’s terrifying demise will convince illegal hunters that the animal’s precious horns aren’t worth the risk of being trampled and eaten by a pride of lions.