A SUSPECTED rhino poacher has been trampled to death by an elephant and eaten by a pride of lions at a national park in South Africa.
Local police said a group of men had gone into an area of Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga Province to hunt rhinoceros on April 1, "when suddenly an elephant attacked and killed one of them".
South African Police Service (SAPS) provincial spokesperson, Brigadier Leonard Hlathi, added: "His accomplices claimed to have carried his body to the road so that passersby could find it in the morning. They then vanished from the park.
"Once outside, they reportedly informed a relative of the dead man about their ordeal and police were alerted regarding the incident".
Park rangers quickly began a search for the man both on foot and by air, but initially failed to find anything due to failing light.
Rangers returned alongside police on April 4 and discovered partial human remains in the Crocodile Bridge section of the game reserve.
"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," said Isaac Phaahla, General Manager of Communications for Kruger National Park.
#sapsMP Komatipoort: A human skull found in the Kruger National Park (KNP) is believed to be that of a man reportedly killed by an elephant while poaching with his accomplices on 01/04; duo arrested, rifles & ammo seized. MEhttps://t.co/XXsXpJqTjA pic.twitter.com/4Oye38Eddh
— SA Police Service (@SAPoliceService) 6 April 2019
Four of the man's alleged accomplices, aged between 26 and 35, were arrested and have appeared in court charged with possession of firearms and ammunition without a licence, conspiracy to poach as well as trespassing.
An inquest has also been opened into the cause of the man's death.
Glenn Phillips, Managing Executive of Kruger National Park, said: "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 diseased mourning the loss of their father, and worse still, only being able to recover very little of his remains."
South Africa, which is home to almost 80% of the world's rhinos, has been hit hard by poaching in recent years – with more than 1,000 rhinos killed illegally each year in the country between 2013 and 2017, before the figure fell to 769 last year.
Kruger National Park has the largest individual concentration of rhinos on the planet and is consistently targeted by poaching gangs – with more than 70% of all rhinos poached in 2015 killed in the game reserve.