A group of poachers who broke into a South African game preserve with the apparent intention of killing endangered rhinos for their horns instead became the victims. A pride of six lions attacked and ate them.
The lions live on the Simbuya Game Reserve in Kenton-on-the-Sea specifically for the purpose of protecting the rhinos from poachers, and they apparently did a commendable job in the early morning hours of July 2nd.
Alongside a skull and other human remains were three pairs of boots and gloves — and a high-powered rifle with a silencer, an axe, wire cutters and a backpack filled with enough food and water to last several days.
These supplies had “all the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing rhino and removing their horns,” said Nick Fox, owner of the preserve, in a press release.
To further protect the wildlife, the preserve also has watchdogs that alert the staff of trespassing poachers. One employee had been awakened about 4:30 am by the persistent barking of the dog he handles. He heard a commotion from the lions but thought nothing of it, since the pride was frequently vocal at night.
About 12 hours later, a field guide discovered the human remains and supplies.
“Investigators and specialists combed the scene and managed to retrieve remains, which were taken by the Department of Health to conduct forensic testing,” South African Police Service Capt. Mali Govender said in a statement, according to CNN.
A ballistics laboratory is testing the rifle to determine if it had been used for poaching or other crimes.
As for the lions, Fox said employees have observed no changes in their behavior. “Although we will continue to be extremely vigilant, we remain positive that this incident will not necessitate any changes to the status quo of our lions,” Fox said.
In 2007, 13 rhinos were illegally killed by poachers in South Africa. Last year, that number jumped to 1,028.
Rhino horns, which can sell for as much as $250,000 apiece in China and Vietnam, are (mistakenly) believed to have medicinal and aphrodisiac properties, even though they’re composed of keratin, the same substance found in fingernails and hair. Rhino horns are also increasingly becoming status symbols.
Despite opposition, last year South Africa, home to the world’s largest population of rhinos, lifted a ban on the trade of their horns. The government believed legalizing it would make the horns drop in value, and thus deter poachers.
Conservationists — and more than 112,000 people who signed a Care2 petition — worried it could have the opposite effect, since there is still an international trading ban.
Although 200 fewer rhinos were killed in 2017 than in 2014, the loss continues to be unsustainable and may lead to their extinction.
In 2016, poachers killed three rhinos at the Simbuya Game Preserve and took their horns. This time, the poachers didn’t have a chance to fire a shot at the lions before they were attacked.
“It was a bit of luck for us and not so much luck for them,” Fox told CNN.
As for the suspected poachers killed by lions at the Simbuya Game Reserve, R.I.P. — that is, to quote comedian and wildlife advocate Ricky Gervais, “Rest in Pieces.”