Suspected rhino poachers killed by lions at South African reserve

Lion Sibuya Nature Reserve

A group of suspected rhino poachers may have been killed and eaten by a pride of lions after sneaking into a South African game reserve, park officials said.

Human remains were discovered close to a pride of lions by a ranger who was touring the Sibuya Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape on Tuesday afternoon with guests from the lodge.

"At this stage it is not clear exactly how many poachers were killed but the police forensic team continue to investigate", Nick Fox, owner of the Sibuya Game Reserve, said in a statement, released on Facebook.

After the incident, authorities recovered the remains of their parts, three pairs of shoes, wire cutters, high-powered hunting rifles fitted with silencers and a type of ax that is commonly used by poachers to remove rhino horns. A signal from an anti-poaching dog early Monday morning and the sound of commotion from the lions didn't raise suspicion as the animals are often active at night.

Currently, Fox said, it's not certain how many poachers were killed. "There's not much left of them", Fox said.

An anti-poaching dog alerted its handler around 4:30 a.m. Monday, but the handler brushed off concerns.

A vet was required to tranquilise six lions so that police could go inside and recover the remains.

In 2018, poachers have killed nine rhinos in South Africa's eastern cape where the reserve is located. In recent years, poachers have moved from Kruger National Park, Africa's biggest wildlife conservancy, to parks they perceive as easier targets, like Sibuya, according to Ellis.

Although it is unclear how many poachers were eaten, the crew believes there were at least 3 victims given the amount of shoes and gloves found.

In 2016, the reserve saw three of its rhinos shot dead by poachers who broke into the reserve to cut off their horns. In 2017, poachers killed 1,028 rhinos in South Africa, compared with 13 in 2007.

Trading of rhino horn is widely banned by global and national authorities, though a court ruling in South Africa last year favor of breeders last year has legalized a domestic market for the horns.

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