Sixteen lions have been killed by poachers who hacked the faces and paws off eight of the adults to sell their teeth and claws to be used to turn into black magic potions.
Distraught Gert Blom, 51, who owns Predators Rock Bush Lodge in Rustenburg, South Africa, was surprised when he woke up not to hear his lion pride roaring as usual at dawn.
He went down to their enclosure and found his two male lions and six lionesses missing and followed drag trails to behind a perimeter wall where he found them all butchered.
Gert said: ‘They had hacked off 32 paws for the claws and eight of their snouts for their teeth after killing them with poisoned chicken which is a really agonising death for the lions.
‘It is cruelty that is beyond belief and an absolutely terrible sight to behold when you see magnificent predators lying there covered in flies minus their faces and their paws’.
A further devastating blow was that two of the lionesses were within 24 hours of giving birth and a post mortem showed that they died with 3 unborn cubs inside each.
Another lioness had given birth the day before she was poisoned and two of her cubs were found dead and it is thought they probably died after suckling milk that was poisoned.
Gert said: ‘With the eight dead cubs – six unborn and the two that were almost certainly poisoned from their mother’s milk – that means the poachers effectively killed 16 lions.
‘Two of the lionesses were about to give birth which makes this all the more tragic’ he said after the lions were killed early on Friday morning at the predator park in North West Province.
Luckily one cub named Yoda who did not drink her mothers’ poisoned milk survived and now at just two days old is being bottle fed milk by Gert.
He said: ‘They got over two 2.4m game fences and a 2.4m brick wall then threw poisoned chicken carcasses into the lion enclosure which is protected by a final electric fence.
‘When the lions were dead they used bolt croppers on the gates to avoid the electric wires around the top and then dragged the lions behind out and behind a wall to butcher them.
‘We have found four sets of footprints so we know there were four poachers here’ he said.
The poisoned lions of the pride were all aged between three and four years old.
The poachers laced chicken carcasses with Aldicarb which is a poison known as ‘Two Step’ locally often used by burglars to kill guard dogs which paralyses the respiratory system.
Owner Gert took a filmed a video of his slaughtered lions and said: ‘I hope that anybody who has any information on these poachers after seeing this film calls the police.
‘They did this to this magnificent animals just for their teeth and their claws’ he said
Predators Rock is also an officially registered breeding facility that aims to improve the numbers of endangered animals in South Africa and provides animals to zoos at home and abroad.
South African Police spokesman Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone said: ‘Eight lions were killed and we are investigating the crime but as of now there have no arrests of anyone yet’.
Traditional witch doctors or healers us the lion body parts to make potions known as ‘muti’ for local customers who believe it gives them powers to ward off evil spirts or bring luck.
Married father-of-two Gert’s predator park is spread over 152 acres and as well as lions is home to tigers, leopards, cheetahs, caracals, hyenas, crocodiles and many types of antelope.
In November poachers hacked off the heads and paws of five lions which made up the entire pride at Sunward Ranch in Brits, Limpopo Province, belonging to Menno Parsons
Earlier that month poachers poisoned four more lions but were chased off before they could take their body parts at Chameleon Village Lion Park at Hartbeespoort near Johannesburg.
In October the pride of lions who ruled the largest urban game reserve in the world was butchered at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve at Pretoria with all their four lions butchered.
In July last year Christa Sayman, 55, lost six lions to poachers who hacked off the heads and paws of four fully grown lions and also killed two other lion cubs at her lion park.
And in May last year at the Jugomara Predator Park in Limpopo Province owner Justin Fernandes, 32, had three lions and a rare white tiger hacked to bits for body parts.
In April last year Gert Claasen, 48, had three lions butchered and three more stolen to be killed and butchered later at his game reserve in Petrus Steyn in Free State Province.
A complete lion skeleton can be bought in South Africa for £1000 but in Vietnam it is worth £50,000 and the individual claws and teeth of a lion are highly prized.
A traditional healer from Limpopo who would not be named said: ‘The lion body parts are used to make strong muti which is a witchcraft potion made by healers to cast spells.
These can be used to protect a person from illness or cure them or make them strong or virile or even used to scare enemies away or prevent them from being attacked’ she said.
It is feared lion bones are now becoming sought after to replace the far rarer tiger bones in demand in South East Asia and are being smuggled out for use in traditional medicines.