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'Hunter hunted': Suspected poacher killed by elephants in South Africa

'Hunter hunted': Suspected poacher killed by elephants in South Africa
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A suspected poacher was trampled to death by a herd of elephants over the weekend in South Africa’s Kruger National Park (KNP), according to a statement from the national park officials.

The statement revealed that the deceased and his accomplices were fleeing from Rangers when they ran into a breeding herd of elephants.

“Field Rangers were out on a routine patrol at the Phabeni area when they detected incoming spoor and made a follow up in pursuit of the suspects. Three individuals were spotted by the Rangers and attempted to run away, but Rangers requested backup from the Airwing and K9 unit,” the statement read.

“One of the suspects was arrested following assistance from the Airwing and K9 unit. The suspect informed the rangers that the group had run into a herd of elephants and was not sure if his accomplice had managed to escape. “

“The Rangers discovered his accomplice badly trampled and unfortunately succumbed to his injuries.”

The third suspect is said to have been injured in the eye but continued to flee.

A rifle was recovered and the case was referred to police, who together with the pathology team attended to the scene. The search for the third suspect is underway.

Elephant ivory is coveted because it can be fashioned into items like combs, pendants and other exotic jewelry.

The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after the population of African animals dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to about 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

- Poaching explosion -

Both elephant species had seen particularly sharp declines since 2008, as poaching for ivory exploded.

The problem peaked in 2011, but continues to threaten populations, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said.

Perhaps even more alarming, according to Okita-Ouma, is the ever-increasing destruction of elephant habitats due to expanding land use for agriculture and other activities.

"If we don't plan our land-use properly, moving forward, then as much as we stop poaching and we stop the illegal killing of these animals, there will still be other forms of indirect killings as a result of poor land-use planning," he said.

Despite the overall declining trend, Thursday's report highlighted the positive impact conservation efforts can have.

Some forest elephant populations have stabilized in well-managed conservation areas in Gabon and the Republic of Congo.

And savanna elephant numbers have been stable or growing for decades in the Kavango-Zambezi transfrontier conservation area that stretches across the borders of five southern African countries.

"Several African countries have led the way in recent years, proving that we can reverse elephant declines, and we must work together to ensure their example can be followed," Oberle said.

Okita-Ouma said the Covid-19 pandemic was taking a toll on conservation efforts as many countries had seen tourism revenues used to fund protection measures evaporate.

At the same time, he said, the dramatic decline in human activity in many areas had allowed elephants to "recolonize" areas they had previously been driven from.

"During the lockdowns, we have seen animals moving all over, and that is a positive side for the animals."