A group of suspected rhino poachers may have been killed and eaten by a pride of lions after sneaking into a South African game reserve, park officials said.
Staff at the Sibuya Game Reserve found what appeared to be human remains alongside tools typically used by poachers to kill rhinos and remove their horns, according to a press release from Nick Fox, the park's owner.
South Africa is home to one of world's largest rhino populations. But extensive poaching and habitat loss mean the animals rarely survive outside of game reserves and national parks, according to the World Wildlife Fund. More than 1,000 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2017, statistics from the South African government show.
Fox said at least three poachers entered the reserve late Sunday night or early Monday morning, waking one of the park's anti-poaching dogs.
The dog's handler heard a loud commotion coming from the lions and figured that's what set off the dog. It wasn't until the next day that one of the field guides discovered the remains near the pride of lions.
Staff alerted an anti-poaching unit and called Fox to the scene. The team found a high-powered rifle, gloves, wire cutters and the remains of a backpack with food, water and other supplies — classic hallmarks of rhino poachers.
Anti-poaching authorities and police were immediately alerted, Fox said. The lions were set to be tranquilized the following morning so authorities could search the area for clues.
It's still unclear how many poachers were killed by the lions, the press release said.
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