A man has been trampled to death by elephants while trying to escape South Africa's Kruger National Park. The man was fleeing rangers who suspected he was a poacher, but the elephants skipped the investigation process.
On April 17, rangers spotted the unnamed man and two companions in the south of the park. Suspecting they were poachers, the rangers attempted to intercept them, calling in the South African Police Service Air Wing to assist. The trio fled, only to run into something considerably worse than the long arm of the law.
According to a South African National Parks statement, the men dropped an ax and bag of provisions in their haste to evade the rangers. Nevertheless, one of the men was caught with the Air Wing and K9 unit's assistance. He told the police he and his companions had run into a herd of elephants.
The rangers found one man trampled but still alive, however, he died of his injuries soon after. The third member of the group is believed to have been injured but has so far got away.
A recovered rifle adds to the evidence the men were not in the park on a sight-seeing visit. Although poaching is a serious threat to elephants in some parts of Africa, most of the hundreds of poachers caught in recent years in the park have been hunting rhinos. The elephants were perhaps not so much protecting their own as expressing pachyderm solidarity.
"We are proud of the teamwork and dedication of our Rangers Corp, our aviators, and the K9 unit. It is unfortunate that a life was unnecessarily lost. Only through discipline, teamwork and tenacity will we be able to help stem the tide of rhino poaching in KNP," Kruger's Managing Executive Gareth Coleman said in the statement.
Coleman asked people living nearby to provide information that might assist him in finding other poachers. "The campaign against poaching is the responsibility of all us; it threatens many livelihoods, destroys families, and takes much-needed resources to fight crime which could be used for creating jobs and development,” he said.
Like every other tourist attraction in the world, Kruger has been hit hard by the pandemic. At normal times it is an important part of the local economy, and indeed that of South Africa, being one of the major reasons international visitors come to the country. Poachers not only threaten the survival of rhinos as a species, but the jobs that tourism creates.
While it may seem the elephants were dispensing justice, poaching is driven by a complex mix of factors, with extreme poverty and lack of alternative employment among them. It can be argued, those who deserve the most blame reap the profits from selling animal-derived trinkets without ever risking their lives around the affected animals.
It's certainly not the only recent example of poachers who have found there were good reasons to fear South Africa's wildlife. In 2019 a trespasser at Kruger was trampled by an elephant before a pride of lions decided not to waste good food. The year before a rifle was insufficient to save a poacher from being eaten by the lions he was hunting in Ingwelala Private Nature Reserve just west of Kruger.
Dangerous as poaching is, being a ranger can be riskier still, including the four killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba National Park in 2015 for trying to stop poachers.