After breaking into a game reserve to hunt rhinos, not much was left of the three poachers.
Rhinos are having a tough time of it. Having the unfortunate distinction of possessing a highly valuable body part, last year 1,028 rhinos were killed illegally in South Africa alone. And the poachers are ruthless beyond wildlife. Over 1,000 game wardens have been killed in the line of duty over the past decade, according to CITES, the UN-backed treaty that regulates global wildlife trade.
But now it appears that lions have come to the rescue – maybe even if only inadvertently.
Nick Fox, owner of the Sibuya Game Reserve said in a statement from the park:
"Sometime during the night of Sunday 1st and early hours of Monday 2nd July 2018, a group of at least three poachers entered Sibuya Game Reserve.
They were armed with, amongst other things, a high powered rifle with a silencer, an axe, wire cutters and had food supplies for a number of days – all the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing rhino and removing their horns."
“They were obviously poachers. The axe that was found on the scene is what is used to by these poachers to hack off the horn after they kill the animal," Fox told the Herald.
Newsweek reports that Sibuya is one of the most popular game reserves in the South African province of Eastern Cape, boasting 30 square miles of wildlife, including lions, rhinos, elephants, buffalos and leopards.
The first sign that something was happening was round 4.30 am on Monday morning, when one of the reserve's anti-poaching dogs alerted her handler that something was wrong. The handler heard some commotion, but since lions are generally active in the early hours anyway, they continued on their rounds.
A day later, one of the reserve’s field guides made the grim discovery.
Among the other things, they found a high-powered rifle with a silencer, "which is a surefire sign of rhino poachers,” Fox said. “The only body part we found was one skull and one bit of pelvis, everything else was completely gone. There is so little left that they don’t know exactly how many people were killed, we suspect three because we found three sets of shoes and three sets of gloves.”
Captain Mali Govender, a spokesperson for the police, said that there is an investigation to determine how many people were killed. “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,” she said.
Because the park is so well known and is home to such a prominent group of animals, Sibuya has suffered from numerous break-ins by poachers recently. In June 2016, reports the Herald, two white rhinos were killed and a third died later from injuries sustained in the poaching incident. The Herald also notes that this year already, nine rhinos have been shot with high-caliber hunting rifles by poachers on Eastern Cape reserves. And just last week, beautiful Bella, a rhino at the Kragga Kamma Game Park, was brutally shot. Even though she had been dehorned for her protection, the poachers scraped out what was left.
As Newsweek writes, Fox admits that the incident was sad. But he also noted that it "should send a message” to other poachers who risk their lives to hunt game in his reserve.