The remains were so mauled, it’s hard to say how many of them there were.
But Nick Fox, the owner of an eco reserve along South Africa’s Sunshine Coast, suspects at least three rhino poachers were killed in the early hours of Monday morning, when a pride of lions savagely descended on the park’s criminal intruders.
“Judging from the shoes and items found on the scene‚ I suspect it is about two or maybe three (alleged poachers) who were killed,” Fox told Sowetan Live.
“The remains were scattered over a very wide area making it difficult to comb the scene and get all the evidence.”
But while an exact tally of the gang’s dead (or its fleeing survivors) remains uncertain, other clues left behind at the site of the massacre mean Fox has no doubts over what the group’s illicit intentions were.
“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,” he explained in a Facebook post about the discovery.
“All the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing rhino and removing their horns.”
In addition to the poaching equipment, staff at the Sibuya Game Reserve discovered a number of dismembered body parts, including one head and three pairs of empty shoes.
The grisly finds are an unlikely juxtaposition of South Africa’s illegal rhino poaching trade – which usually sees only one species of victim.
Less than a week ago, tragic news out of another South African game park revealed a 20-year-old matriarch rhino was slaughtered by poachers for a single centimetre of her valuable horn.
This time, thanks to the brutal intervention of other wild animals, the casualties fell only on the human side.
“The lions are our watchers and guardians and they poached the wrong pride and became a meal,” Fox told the Sandton Chronicle.
“While we are saddened by any loss of life, the poachers came here to kill our animals and this sends out a very clear message to other poachers that you will not always be the winner.”
According to Fox, the pride that attacked the group consists of six animals, and the site is now being investigated by a police forensic team to uncover more details about the suspected poachers.
Meanwhile, a ballistics lab will run tests on the recovered gun to trace whether it has been tied to other illegal poaching activities.
“It is huge relief that they did not get to the rhino,” Fox told Herald Live. “We had a poaching around this exact same time two years ago.”
In that episode, two rhinos were killed immediately during the poaching, with a third animal dying later from serious injuries sustained in the attack.
This time around, the final, fatal score was very different, but Fox asserts that despite the deaths and the publicity around them, the nature park remains very much open for business – and his tourist clientele don’t seem in the bit bothered by the developments.
“It’s still business as usual, it doesn’t change anything we do,” he told AFP.
“The comments on our Facebook are all talking about karma and warnings.”