Lions One, Poachers Zero – Sometimes The Underdog Wins
It is only natural to root for the underdog, especially when the underdog is a member of the animal kingdom and it’s opponent is a criminal. While big cats, particularly Lions, are not yet on the endangered species list, they are protected in most of Africa. Despite that protection, they are still the target of scum that chose to hunt them illegally for profit.
Such was the case last week, when what a poacher went into the brush of a game preserve intent on bagging a lion or two. Fortunately for the big cats, they were able to turn the table on the criminal and now the police are trying to find out just who the poacher is. Authorities said that the man appears to have been killed and eaten by the pride of lions he was hunting at a private game reserve in South Africa.
Police said they responded to reports of someone screaming for help as he was attacked at the Ingwelala Private Nature Reserve in Hoedspruit outside Phalaborwa. But by the time any help could arrive, nature had taken it course. Investigators said the lions quickly killed their victim and devoured most of his body before being chased off, leaving only his head untouched.
At first there was some confusion as to the identity of the victim, with police at first believing the dead man was an employee of the game reserve who drove a tractor. But a short while into the investigation, that man turned up. Later they realized the victim was likely a poacher after they found a hunting rifle close to the sight of the attack near the blood drenched remains.
Appearently, the man was either not carrying any identification, or it was lost or eaten by the lions and the police have not yet identified the person. In an effort to do so, police in Limpopo have asked for help from the Department of Home Affairs in identifying the dead man. Police Lieutenant-Colonel Moatshe Ngoepe said: “The process of identifying this body has already commenced and it might be made easier as his head was amongst the remains found at the scene”.
The reserve’s owner, identified only as Josh, was contacted for comment, but said that he had been instructed by police not to talk to the media because there was still an investigation underway. But a worker, from a nearby nature reserve, described the area as lion territory and told media that: “The head was still there but the lions had eaten most of the rest. A scream was heard and the lions were scattered by the sound of gunshots but it was too late to do anything for him. He was eaten”.
Lions kill up to 250 people a year in Africa and a male weighs around 50 lbs while a female is only about 250 lbs. While lions are big, they can run at speeds of over 40 mph. Experts say that there are less than 20000 left in the wild in Africa. Lions have long been targeted by poachers since their bones are highly prized in the the Far East with a skeleton fetching up to $11,000 and a good hide will bring about $5,000. Even the teeth can bring in as much as $750 each.
British wildlife photographer Charlie Lynham, 59, from Liverpool now resides close to the reserve and spends a lot of time photographing the lion pride that lives there. He was one of the first ones at the gates, arriving shortly after the alarm was raised and the paramedics had raced in. Mr Lynham was told that a suspected poacher had been killed – but he added that it was not yet clear whether the attack had happened inside Ingwelala or in a neighboring reserve.
Lynham told reporters, “It turns out it was not the resident pride that lives here that is responsible for the attack, as they were on a buffalo kill at the time of the incident but a pride perhaps come over from the Kruger (National Park)”.
Authorities said: the incident happened on the border of two different reserves. In addition to the remains, officials also found two .456 big game rifles and ammunition at the scene. An officer said those are the weapon of choice used by those hunting big game – especially elephant and rhino in the bush.
A local worker, from a nearby nature reserve, described the area as lion territory. “I cannot say if it was poachers as the matter is under investigation but that is their weapon of choice and they usually work in groups of three and work under cover of darkness. Two sets of footprints have been found running away and obviously the dead and eaten man.”
Mr. Lynham said there were no anti-poaching groups in the area at the time and nobody was working in the area that he knew of. Lynham also added, despite being speculation “it would seem very possible that you have poetic justice here. Lions are not a particular danger in daylight but after dark, then that is another matter. It is purely speculation on my part but it would seem they either walked into a pride of lions in the darkness or they were stalked and attacked and a man was taken down and eaten. The other two it seems ran off and two .456 big game rifles were found and ammunition.”
In the way of a warning, he added “If you go out walking in the bush in the dark then I am afraid you are fair game in the wild and there is no way that anyone can attribute any blame to those lions for this kill.”