TORN APART: Rhino poachers ‘eaten alive’ by lions
AT least three poachers who broke into a South African game reserve to kill a herd of rhinos were attacked and eaten by a pride of lions, it was revealed on Thursday.
At least three hunters were believed to have been killed by the pride with one head recovered at the scene along with a number of body parts.
Park staff discovered the body remnants at the Sibuya Game Reserve near Kenton-on-Sea on Tuesday and called in a helicopter to search the area for more poachers, reports The Sun.
When none were found and the area was declared safe, a vet tranquillised the six lions in the pride so police and staff could go inside and recover the remains of the poachers.
Owner Nick Fox, 60, said: "We found enough body parts and three pairs of empty shoes which suggest to us that the lions ate at least three of them but it is thick bush and there could be more.
"They came heavily armed with hunting rifles and axes, which we have recovered, and enough food to last them for several days, so we suspect they were after all of our rhinos here. But the lions are our watchers and guardians and they picked the wrong pride and became a meal.
"While we are saddened at any loss of life, the poachers came here to kill our animals and this sends out a very clear message to any other poachers that you will not always be the winner."
The game reserve, which sits on 50 kilometres of land, is one of the most popular in the Eastern Cape and is home to the Big Five - elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard.
In 2016, the reserve lost three rhinos when poachers got into the park, shot them dead and cut off their horns, but this time it was the poachers who came off second best.
Mr Fox said: "The lions may have eaten more of them - it's difficult to tell as the area is very thick with bush and you can't be sure what they have taken off to feed on elsewhere.
"They were armed with high-powered rifles with silencers and an axe for the horns and wire cutters and side arms and they had enough food with them to last for many days."
The bodies were found on Tuesday, but staff had to wait until Wednesday morning after the area was declared safe to go in and recover the remains.
Police spokesperson Captain Mali Govender confirmed that body parts had been found near where the lions were situated and that detectives were on the scene trying to work out how many people were eaten.
Captain Govender said: "We do not know identities, but firearms have been taken by the police and will be sent to the ballistics laboratory to see if they have been used in poaching before."
Already this year nine rhinos - all of which were shot with a high-calibre hunting rifle - have been killed by poachers on Eastern Cape reserves and it is hoped by authorities that this is the group responsible.
In February a poacher hunting lions in the Umbabat Game Reserve near the Kruger National Park was killed by lions and was identified by his sister-in-law. All that remained of the poacher was his head.
This story was originally published in The Sun and is reprinted with permission.