A man police believe was poaching lions in South Africa’s Kruger National Park was found dead—and the culprits are the very same cats he was reportedly there to kill.
“It seems the victim was poaching in the game park when he was attacked and killed by lions,” Moatshe Ngoepe, a police spokesman, said in an interview with AFP. “They ate his body, nearly all of it, and just left his head and some remains.” They also left behind a loaded hunting rifle, which was found nearby, and led police to the conclusion that the man was a poacher.
While the problem of poaching is commonplace in Africa, where any number of endangered species are targets for illegal hunts, this kind of reversal is extraordinary. “I think it’s relatively uncommon that we discover a poacher has been killed, in particular by the species he or she is hunting,” Craig Sholley, senior vice president of the African Wildlife Foundation told Men’s Journal. “In this case, it’s relatively rare that a lion would kill a poacher, but obviously, lions are big cats; they’re powerful cats that are very dangerous in the wild. When a poacher or anybody else goes into their habitat, they’re potentially putting their life at risk.”
Sholley says the current number of lions poached in South Africa isn’t known, unlike other highly endangered species. “Animals like rhinos are very, very closely monitored … When it comes to lions, that’s not the case,” he says.
The AWF estimates there are 23,000 lions currently living in Africa, compared to over 200,000 of the felines that roamed the continent as recently as the 1960s. There was a 43 percent decrease in their populate between 1993 and 2014 alone.
“We’re talking about a species that is at risk,” Sholley said. “Lion populations over the course of the last couple of decades had been plummeting as a result of habitat destruction, as a result of human-lion conflict.” And while poachers aren’t the only ones to blame (“there’s a lot of retaliatory killing that takes place when lions come into a cattle culture, for example, and kill cattle,” Sholley added), they’re certainly not helping to keep a stable population.
“There is a lion bone trade that has become quite big in Southeast Asia, in particular,” he said. “So over the course of the last five years, we know the lions have been specifically poached for bones that are then illegally traded in Southeast Asia.”
It’s meant that lion populations have decreased across the continent, making them an increasingly rare site in certain parts of Africa. “There are a couple of very important lion countries, but lions have been extricated in about 15 countries throughout the continent where they used to exist,” Sholley said.