Some men in the South African reserve were allegedly looking to poach rhinos, but they faced some unexpected prey. After the sun set on Sunday night the men carrying high-powered rifles, a silencer, an ax and a wire cutter, entered the reserve. These are the tools that poachers use to shoot and kill rhinos and then saw off their horns, according to Nick Fox in a statement on Facebook. He is the owner of Sibuya Game Reserve.
Early the next morning, an anti-poaching dog on patrol started barking and its handler heard “a loud commotion coming from the lions,” Fox said.
On Tuesday afternoon, a field guide found a skull in the area around the lions.
“The only body part we found was one skull and one bit of pelvis, everything else was completely gone,” Fox told Newsweek. He was uncertain how many people were killed, but said three sets of shoes and gloves were found.
Police spokeswoman Capt. Mali Govender said that investigators recovered remains from the reserve and that they have been sent for forensic testing. The rifle has also been sent to a ballistics laboratory “to establish if it has been used in any other poaching or crimes.”
South Africa, home to the largest population of the world’s 30,000 rhinos. It has seen a dramatic rise in poaching since 2007, Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhinos Foundation, told The Washington Post. “Numbers have gone from fewer than 10 in 2007 to well over 1,000 in the past few years,” she said.
Many reserves have created monitoring teams to help with their anti-poaching efforts. Handlers use trained dogs as an early warning and honing beacons to track the whereabouts of their rhinos daily.
The lions have been tranquilized to enable the police and the anti-poaching unit to continue the investigation, according to Fox’s statement.
Sibuya Game Reserve, near the popular tourist destination of Cape Town, is open for safaris on the Eastern Cape. From the ocean to the bush, Sibuya’s wildlife spans from birds to Africa’s “big five game” — lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo.
The poaching of Rhinos now carries a jail sentence in South Africa. But in 2017 alone, more than 1,000 adult rhinos were slaughtered. In recent years, poachers have moved from Kruger National Park, Africa’s biggest wildlife conservancy, to parks they believe are easier targets, like Sibuya.
In 2016, two Sibuya rhinos were slaughtered for their horns and a third was severely mutilated. The crisis continues to haunt South Africa and has spilled into Namibia and Zimbabwe, Ellis said.
According to Ellis, poachers are members of well-organized criminal networks driven by a demand from the Asian market. The rhino horn, which is worth more than gold or platinum, is a valuable commodity, like elephant ivory or drugs.
“It’s not a crime of poverty,” Ellis said. “It’s a crime of greed.”
“I think we had a stroke of luck here,” Fox said. “The lions got to them before they got to the rhinos.”