At the Sibuya Game Reserve in South Africa, which has become a target for illegal poachers in recent years, three rhino hunters were devoured by lions when attempting to sneak onto the property last year.
Nick Fox, the owner of the park told Newsweek that the hunters had high powered rifles with silencers, and axes that are used to remove horns from rhinos.
“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,” Fox said.
The remains of the poachers were not found until a day later when one of the ranchers on the reserve stumbled upon them while working.
“They [found] an ax and high-powered rifle with a silencer, which is a surefire sign of rhino poachers,” Fox said.
Captain Mali Govender, a police spokesperson, said that the identities of the individuals are still unknown because only traces of them were found.
“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.
Govender also said that police sent a helicopter to search for survivors, but no one was found.
Sibuya is a wildlife reserve in South Africa that is constantly facing break-ins from poachers attracted to the endangered animals that call the sanctuary home. In 2016, three rhinos were shot and killed by poachers who broke into the reserve to cut off their horns.
Fox told Newsweek that the lions won’t receive any type of punishment and that they would not be a threat to tourists who entered the reserve legally. Many tourists were concerned that the animals would be punished because of what happened and many animal rights activists also spoke up to ensure that the animals were not killed for defending the reserve.
“They won’t be killed. The status quo will continue,” Fox said.
In a later Facebook post, Fox explained that “lions view a game viewing vehicle containing people as something entirely different from individuals who are walking on the ground. Over the last few days, game guides and anti-poaching staff have continued to drive game viewing vehicles in the vicinity of this pride to check for any behavioral differences and they have confirmed that to date there have been none.”
It is estimated that there are roughly 29,000 rhinos in the world and somewhere around 80 percent of them are located in South Africa. According to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, poachers killed 1,028 rhino across South Africa in 2017.
Rhino horns can be sold for up to $100,000 per kilogram, which is just over two pounds. Considering that most of these horns weigh an average of two to seven pounds each, a poacher could make anywhere between $300,000 and $7,000 off of a single rhino horn. However, these high prices are unique to specific areas in Asia where some cultures believe that horns and tusks of certain animals have important medicinal qualities. On the black market in South Africa, these horns fetch a much lower price, typically around $3,000 per pound.
Wildlife poachers are posing an increasing threat to endangered species, as hunters are moving into wildlife preserves in search of high-value animals. To fight back against the poachers, Kenya has taken the measure of implementing the death penalty for anyone caught hunting endangered animals in these areas.
Najib Balala, the country’s tourism and wildlife minister, says that the high fines that were imposed on poachers in the past were not an adequate deterrent.
“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of US$200,000. However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence,” Balala said.
Last year, Balala fast-tracked the death penalty measure into law.
The ministry reported that there has been a significant reduction in rhino and elephant poaching in recent years.
“These efforts led to an 85 percent reduction in rhino poaching and a 78 percent reduction in elephant poaching, respectively, in 2017 compared to when poaching was at its peak in 2013 and 2012 respectively,” the ministry said.
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