Suspected Poacher Missing After Jumping Into Crocodile-infested Lake to Escape Rangers

A suspected poacher is missing after leaping into a lake in South Africa known to be home to around 1,000 crocodiles. The man entered Lake St Lucia on Friday, November 12, after exchanging gunshots with rangers working in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

The field rangers had heard gunshots being fired at around 9.30 a.m. local time. They went to investigate and saw two boats on the bank of the lake. They monitored the area nearby as the team believed the boats belonged to poachers operating in the area.

As they were patrolling, they saw four suspected poachers heading towards the boats, one of which was carrying a gun.

Field rangers told the suspects to surrender, but instead they were shot at. The rangers returned fire and moved towards the area the group had been.

"The suspected poachers ran in different directions during the shoot-out," a statement from iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (the government organization that maintains wildlife conservation), said.

"Field Rangers further observed blood in the water, which made them suspect that one poacher, probably the one with a gun, had been shot. He might have attempted to avert arrest by jumping into the water."

Musa Mntambo, head of corporate affairs at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, told Newsweek they were still searching the lake for the injured poaching suspect. "Our divers went into the water again today to search for the missing poacher," he said. "The missing poacher is thus still missing.

"We know that the lake has crocodiles so if he did not manage to get out during the gunfire, we are concerned about his safety."

The Lake St Lucia estuarine system is home to around 1,000 Nile crocodiles.

This species is the most deadly of all crocodilians, accounting for hundreds of human deaths every year. iSimangaliso has one of the biggest populations in South Africa, with a recent aerial count showing up to 99 individuals per square kilometer.

nile crocodiles
Stock photo of a group of Nile crocodiles. This species is the most deadly of all crocodilians. Getty Images

Poaching is a huge problem in the iSimangaliso. A white rhino was poached and its horns stolen just two months ago.

More recently a hippo carcass was discovered just under a mile from where the latest incident took place. Hippos have been targeted by poachers in recent decades for their meat and teeth, with the latter being traded as an affordable alternative to ivory.

Mntambo said it is impossible to know what the suspected poachers could have been after. "The problem of poaching is very huge in KZN," he said. "Poachers poach for various reasons, including poaching for their stomachs or poaching to sell and make a profit."