Rhinos grazing on the edge of Kruger National Park, 2016.
Photo: Denis Farrell (AP)

A man suspected to have entered Kruger National Park in South Africa neat the border with Mozambique on Monday with four compatriots to poach protected rhinos was reportedly killed by an elephant before becoming a meal to a pack of lions, according to a report in the Letaba Herald subsequently confirmed by other outlets.

Spokesman Isaac Phaahla told the paper that “According to the family of the deceased, they were called by his accomplices who notified them that their relative had been killed by an elephant while they were in the KNP to poach a rhino on Tuesday evening.” Kruger National Park Rangers along with South African Police Service officers from Komatipoort and Skukuza discovered the remains in the Crocodile Bridge section of the park during a search on April 4, the Herald wrote.

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The Herald wrote that after the man was suddenly attacked by the elephant, lions devoured much of his body:

According to Phaala, indications found at the scene suggested that a pride of lions had devoured the remains leaving only a human skull and a pair of pants. Skukuza police were notified immediately and are currently busy with further investigations into the incident.

... “Entering Kruger National Park illegally and on foot is not wise, it holds many dangers and this incident is evidence of that. It is very sad to see the daughters of the deceased mourning the loss of their father, and worse still, only being able to recover very little of his remains,” [NKP Managing Executive Glenn Phillips] said.

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According to CNN, three people suspected of participating in the hunt were arrested over the past week, resulting in seizures of firearms. They are being held on charges of “possessing firearms and ammunition without a license, conspiracy to poach and trespassing,” and have been remanded to custody pending a formal bail application, CNN wrote.

Kruger National Park, a highly protected zone guarded by everything from dogs to aircraft, says it is home to an estimated 349 to 465 of the critically endangered black rhino, which the IUCN Red List notes used to number in the hundreds of thousands of individuals. They now are believed to number at somewhere around 5,000, with almost all living in protected ranges in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. CNN wrote that the park also says it is home between 6,600 and 7,800 white rhinos, which the IUCN Red List categorizes as Near Threatened and has a population of roughly 19,600 to 21,100 individuals concentrated in the same countries (though the northern subspecies is on the brink of extinction).

Both the black and white rhinoceroses are subject to poaching for their horns, which are sold on the international black market as both a bunk form of alternative medicine and as a status symbol. According to CNN, the South African Police Service made 680 poaching and trafficking arrests in 2016, some 417 of whom were “in and around” Kruger National Park. As the BBC noted, Hong Kong authorities recently made their biggest rhino horn bust in half a decade, seizing approximately $2.1 million worth of it.

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[Letaba Herald/CNN]

Correction: Rhino horns are not ivory. We regret the error.