Park rangers at the Sibuya Game Reserve near Kenton-On-Sea in South Africa found the mauled body parts of at least three people in a lion enclosure. A few pairs of shoes, axes, wire cutters, and guns with silencers were also found in the enclosure, leading officials to believe that they were poachers looking to secure rhino horns, according to BBC News. It is believed that the trio entered the reserve on either Sunday night or early Monday morning. Once the remains were spotted in the lion enclosure, an anti-poaching team was dispatched to the scene. Though a helicopter searched for the poachers initially, nothing was found beyond the remains and materials in the enclosure.
Though the likelihood of the trio being poachers is high, officials still took the weapons they found in for testing, according to Independent. The identities of the poachers remain unknown.
The owner of the Sibuya Game Reserve, Nick Fox, spoke to AFP News Agency and said that the poachers "didn't have too much time" once they entered the enclosure, which is home to a large pride of lions. Before the remains could be recovered, six of the lions had to be tranquilized, according to Fox.
"We found enough body parts and three pairs of empty shoes which suggest to us that the lions ate at least three of them but it is thick bush and there could be more. They came heavily armed with hunting rifles and axes which we have recovered and enough food to last them for several days so we suspect they were after all of our rhinos here," Fox said.
Though it is estimated there were three poachers, officials cannot be certain just yet. "There's not much left of them," Fox said.
Since there's been a growing interest in rhino horns, particularly in Asia, rhino poaching has increased over the last few years. BBC News reports that "In China, Vietnam, and elsewhere, rhino horn is believed to have aphrodisiac qualities."
Over 7,000 rhinos have been killed and their tusks poached in the last decade, with nine killed just this year. In 2016, the Sibuya Game Reserve lost three of its own rhinos after poachers shot them and removed their horns.
According to CBS News, a similar incident occurred in February at the Umbabat Game Reserve, where a pride of lions killed a poacher who was hunting them. The only remains found at the scene was the poacher's head.