The Sibuya Game Reserve staff and authorities are unsure how many poachers out of the group of three were killed and eaten by the lions

Following close behind the controversial news of a Kentucky woman shooting and killing a black giraffe comes a story in which the hunters become the hunted.

South Africa’s Sibuya Game Reserve shared a press release on Thursday regarding the mauling death of a group of poachers. The park reports that between Sunday evening and Monday morning, three poachers entered the reserve, likely looking for rhinos.

“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,” reads the park’s press release.

Around 4:30 a.m. Monday morning, the reserve’s anti-poaching dogs began to act agitated, but when a handler heard a loud commotion coming from a nearby pride of lions, they figured it was this ruckus that caused the dogs to act out. It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that park officials found human remains near the lion pride that had been making noise the day prior.

“At about 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday 3rd July one of our field guides on game drive alerted the Anti-Poaching Unit that there appeared to be human remains as well as other items in the immediate vicinity of the lions. I was immediately called to the scene where along with the APU we found the high powered rifle, gloves, wire cutters and the remains of a back pack with food, water and other supplies,” Sibuya Game Reserve owner Nick Fox wrote in a statement.

Pride of lions resting under a tree, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana
Credit: Getty

Based on this evidence, Fox thinks it is clear that the dogs responded to the poachers’ presence, but that the poachers unknowingly walked into a group of six lions, causing the commotion the handler heard, before the canines could respond. The lions likely attacked and ate at least one if not all of the poachers. Authorities are currently examining the scene where the remains were found to get more details.

“As it was already dark it was not possible to investigate the area until first light at which time we arranged for our vet to dart the entire pride of lions so that Police forensic teams assisted by our Anti-poaching unit could comb the immediate area for clues,” Fox wrote in his statement about what happened after the remains were found. “At this stage it is not clear exactly how many poachers were killed but the Police forensic team continue to investigate.”

“The only body part we found was one skull and one bit of pelvis, everything else was completely gone,” Fox told Newsweek. “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.”

BBC reports that police are also patrolling the area to ensure that the poachers — if any survived — don’t return to hurt any of the animals in the reserve.

Fox also shared with Newsweek that he hopes this incident sends a message to other poachers, even though he is saddened by the loss of human life. As one of the most popular game reserves in the country, Sibuya is unfortunately familiar with poachers and their efforts to kill and defile rare animals. In 2016, three of the park’s rhinos were shot and killed by poachers for their horns.