A gang of poachers who broke into a South African game reserve to hunt rhinos came off second best when they were attacked and eaten by a pride of hungry lions.
At least three hunters are believed to have been devoured by the predators, judging by the bloody scene on the Sibuya Game Reserve near Kenton-on-Sea in Eastern Province, South Africa.
One head and a number of bloodied body parts and limbs have been recovered from the area, along with three pairs of empty shoes.
Staff at Sibuya also found high powered hunting rifles with silencers, wire cutters and an axe used by poachers to cut off rhino horns.
A helicopter was called in to search for more possible poachers, but none have so far been found.
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.
‘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 game reserve is one of the most popular in the Eastern Cape, and it is visited by many British tourists.
As well as rhinos and lions, Sibuya’s 30 square miles is also is home to the rest of Africa’s Big Five: elephant, buffalo and leopard.
In 2016, the reserve lost three rhinos when poachers got into the park and shot them dead and cut off their horns.
However, this time the hunters became the hunted, when they got in the way of the resident lion pride.
Mr Fox said: ‘The lions may have eaten more of them it is difficult to tell as the area is very thick with bush and you cannot be sure what they have taken off to feed on elsewhere.
‘The best estimate we have so far is that three of the gang were eaten.
‘They were armed with high powered rifles with silencers, an axe for the horns, wire cutters and side arms, so were clearly intent on killing rhinos and cutting off their horns.’
The remains of the bodies were found as darkness fell on July 3rd, but staff had to wait until daylight on July 4th when the area could be declared safe to go in and recover what was left
Police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender confirmed that the remains had been found in the lion camp and that detectives were on the scene trying to work out how many were eaten.
Captain 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’.
Poaching is a major issue on the Eastern Cape with nine rhinos killed by illegal hunters on reserves this year.
In February a poacher was killed by lions in the Umbabat Game Reserve near the Kruger National Park, and his family were forced to identify him using all that was left – his head.