A gang of poachers who broke into a South African game reserve to slaughter a herd of rhinos were attacked and EATEN by a pride of hungry lions.

A head and a number of bloodied body parts and limbs were found near the scene after at least three illegal hunters were devoured by the predators.

Staff at the Sibuya Game Reserve, in Eastern Province, South Africa, called in a helicopter to search the area for more poachers.

A vet then had to tranquilise the six lions so police could go inside and recover the remains of the mauled 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.

“They were clearly intent on killing rhinos and cutting off their horns.

“But the lions are our watchers and guardians and they picked the wrong pride and became a meal.

“Whilst 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 remains of the bodies were found as darkness fell on Tuesday.

Staff had to wait until Wednesday morning until the area could be declared safe to go in and recover what was left

A police spokeswoman confirmed the grim discovery was made in the lion camp.

Captain Mali 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.”

The game reserve is one of the most popular in the Eastern Cape with British tourists and is home to the Big Five of elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard and is set in 30 square miles.

In 2016 the reserve lost three rhinos when poachers got into the park and shot them dead for their horns.

Nine rhinos – all of which were shot with a high-calibre hunting rifle – have been killed by poachers on Eastern Cape reserves already this year.

It is hoped the gang eaten by lions are responsible for the deaths.

The most high profile animal killing in recent times came when American dentist Walter Palmer shot Cecil – a famous lion in Zimbabwe.

Palmer killed the black-maned male after the lion was lured from the protected Hwange National Park paying a reported £35,000 to hunt the wild beast.

The father-of-two then disappeared when he became the target of furious protesters over the execution.

The 13-year-old lion had been fitted with a tracking collar as part of a research project when he was killed.

Palmer’s guide was accused of using a dead animal carcass to entice Cecil out of a safe area to which the dentist said he was unaware of.

His plans to get Cecil’s head mounted for his trophy room ended when one of Palmer’s guides surrendered the lion’s remains to officials in Africa.

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 from his head – the only part of his body left.

Mirror

News Reporter
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