Nelspruit - A human skull found in the Kruger National Park (KNP) is believed to be that of a man killed by an elephant and then devoured by a pride of lions, according to SANParks.
"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," SANParks said in a statement.
According to the Mpumalanga police, the man was a rhino poacher.
"The police received information that some men were poaching in the park on April 1, when suddenly an elephant attacked and killed one of them," Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said in a statement.
"His accomplices claimed to have carried his body to the road so that passers-by could find it in the morning. They then vanished from the park," he said.
Once outside, they reportedly informed a relative of the dead man about their ordeal and police were alerted regarding the incident. A search operation was launched by police and rangers in the area, whereupon the human skull and pieces of clothing were found.
Subsequent to that, police launched a joint intelligence-driven operation in search of the dead poacher's accomplices, resulting in the arrest of three men, aged between 26 and 35. During the operation, two .375 hunting rifles and ammunition were seized.
The suspects had briefly appeared in the Komatipoort Magistrate's Court on Friday on charges of possession of firearms and ammunition without a licence, conspiracy to poach, and trespassing.
They were remanded in custody and would again appear in the same court on April 12, pending a formal bail application. An inquest was opened in connection with the dead suspect, Hlathi said.
SANParks explains that Kruger National Park Rangers assisted by Komatipoort and Skukuza SAPS had helped the family of the suspected poacher to find closure by recovering his remains in the Crocodile Bridge section on Thursday.
"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 rhino on Tuesday evening. The family then called Skukuza Regional Ranger, Don English who, after assuring the family that he would do everything possible to recover the remains and bring them closure, arranged a search party. Rangers on foot, accompanied by members of the KNP Airwing flew over the area that was described by the family but due to failing light, could not locate the body.
The team resumed the search on Thursday morning, with further information provided after four of the deceased’s alleged accomplices, who had been arrested during the previous evening.
"During this search, which was boosted with a further compliment of field rangers, the remains of a body were discovered. 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."
Managing Executive of the KNP Glenn Phillips commended those who were part of the search party for helping the family find closure and extended his condolences to the relatives of the deceased. “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.”