South Africa — An unidentified man suspected of being a poacher was killed and eaten by a pack of lions over the weekend near the Kruger National Park in South Africa, according to local media reports.
What little remained of the man was found in a private game reserve in the northern province of Limpopo. Authorities initially believed the deceased to be an employee who had gotten stuck while driving a tractor, but that individual has since been verified to be alive.
A rifle and ammunition were found near the mostly-devoured body, leading investigators to suspect the man had been illegally poaching in the area.
“It seems the victim was poaching in the game park when he was attacked and killed by lions,” Limpopo police spokesman Moatshe Ngoepe told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “They ate his body, nearly all of it, and just left his head and some remains.”
Police say South Africa’s Department of Homeland Affairs has been called in to aid in identifying the deceased, and spokesman Ngoepe told local outlet Sowetan Live the endeavor may be made easier because of what the lions left behind:
“The process of identifying the deceased has already commenced and it might be made possible by the fact that his head is among the remains that were found at the scene.”
Authorities say there isn’t enough information at present to determine if the man was there specifically to poach lions, but Limpopo Province has seen a spike in the activity in recent years.
Historically, the region has been home to higher levels of rhino poaching, which is far more lucrative. Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes, who studies market influences on poaching at the University of Oxford, told National Geographic the reward for taking lions just isn’t the same:
“If you look at the economics of poaching, these guys are taking a risk. It’s got to be worth their while. The probability [of being caught] and penalty is about the same…but the price for lion body parts is way lower than rhino horn.”
In fact, says Sas-Rolfes, when lions are poached it’s usually either a revenge killing or simply someone being opportunistic.
Still, lions are being killed. In January of 2017, three lions were poisoned to death in Limpopo, their heads and paws cut off. Then, in June, poachers poisoned two lions who had been rescued from a circus and were being rehabilitated in the province.