A wildlife reserve in South Africa says that a group of rhino poachers got eaten by a pride of lions after the poachers broke into the park earlier this week.
Nick Fox, the owner of the Sibuya Game Reserve, told BuzzFeed News that a staff member spotted human remains near a pride of six lions on Tuesday. The following morning, the veterinarian used a dart gun to tranquilize the big cats, giving a police forensic unit and the reserve's anti-poaching unit time to investigate.
"That's when they found the axe, various pieces of clothing, shoes," Fox said. "Everything was very spread out."
Fox said he's not sure how many of the suspected poachers were eaten, but the crew must have included at least three people since that's how many pairs of shoes and gloves were found. He said the poachers had come equipped with a high-powered rifle with a silencer, wire cutters, an axe for cutting out the rhino horns, and enough food to last several days.
A police spokesperson told the Herald that a forensic team will examine the human remains recovered on the scene. The rifle will be tested by a ballistics lab to see if it has been used in other crimes.
This is not the first time poachers have targeted the Sibuya Game Reserve. In early 2016, three of the park's rhinos were killed for their horns. Fox said that the loss was devastating, especially as one of the animals had been "hand-reared" by staff.
It is estimated that there are fewer than 30,000 rhinos in the world, and South Africa is home to more than 80% of the remaining population. Poaching is continually shrinking that number, however, as more than 1,000 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2017, according to National Geographic.
“It’s a massive problem. Rhino horn has now become more valuable than gold per gram,” Fox said.
“I just thank my lions," he added. "They saved our rhinos from another onslaught.”