On Tuesday night, rangers at the Sibuya Game Reserve in Kenton-on-Sea, South Africa, stumbled upon the dismembered remains of a human man inside their lion camp.
Scattered nearby were a hunting rifle with a silencer, wire cutters, and a long axe, according to local news agency Herald Live. These items, of a decidedly unfriendly nature no matter what context they’re found in, are particularly suspicious considering that the encompassing Eastern Cape province has been a hotspot of rhino poaching in recent years. So far this year, nine rhinos in the region have been killed. And just last week, a southern white rhino female at the nearby Kragga Kamma Game Park was killed by horn traffickers even though only 1 centimeter of her keratin appendage remained – the rest had been removed as an anti-poaching precaution.
National Geographic reports that 1,028 rhinos were poached across South Africa in 2017, a nation that is home to about 80 percent of the world’s remaining ~29,000 rhinos. All five extant species – two of which are native to the African continent and the other three are found in India and southeast Asia – are classified as either threatened, endangered, or critically endangered. (The northern subspecies of the African white rhino is now functionally extinct, as only two females remain, but a recent advance by reproductive biologists hoping to revive the species through a combined IVF and stem-cell approach could save them from vanishing forever.)
Returning to the scene on Wednesday morning to investigate in daylight and search for other poachers, local police discovered more body parts strewn among the bushes; enough to constitute two or possibly three individuals, per the BBC.
For safety, the six lions who live in the large enclosure were tranquilized by a veterinarian.
Police spokesperson Captain Mali Govender was unwilling to state on the record that the mauled remains belonged to wildlife poachers, as the evidence must still be reviewed.
She said: “On Wednesday morning, investigators and specialists combed the scene and managed to retrieve remains which were taken by the department of health for forensic testing.”
“The identity of the [persons] remains unknown. The firearm has been taken by police and will be sent to the ballistics laboratory to establish if it has been used in any other poaching or crimes.”
On the whole, the ecologically rich nation appears committed to increasingly thorough anti-poaching measures, including the use of drones, trained dogs, and high-tech radar surveillance systems. A government press release from earlier this year stated that 502 alleged poachers were arrested in 2017, though data on the number of convictions is currently unavailable.
In this case, however, it appears that the rhino’s savannah neighbors, the lions, stepped up as judge, jury, and executioner – a role they seem well-suited for. Back in February, a pride of lions living adjacent to the famed Kruger National Park mauled a suspected rifle-armed poacher, quickly devouring most of his body but leaving the head.