Staffers found some of the hunters' body parts, including a head and some limbs, at the Sibuya Game Reserve in Kenton-on-Sea in South Africa on Tuesday after they were eaten by a pride of lions.
The Sibuya Game Reserve is the most popular reserve in the Eastern Cape and is home to many of the planet's largest mammals, including elephants, rhinos, buffalo, lions and leopards.
— Sibuya Game Reserve (@SibuyaGameRes) July 5, 2018
There could have been more remains, and indeed more hunters with the group, but the thickness of the brush makes it hard to know for sure. Nonetheless, a helicopter was called in to search for more casualties and none were discovered.
After the helicopter search was finished, a veterinarian tranquilised the pride so that police and workers at the reserve could recover the gruesome remains safely.
"The lions are our watchers and guardians and they picked the wrong pride and became a meal," said reservation owner Nick Fox. "Whilst we are saddened at any loss of life, the poachers came here to kill our animals and this sends out a very clear message to any other poachers that you will not always be the winner," he added according to a press release.
"We found enough body parts and three pairs of empty shoes, which suggest to us that the lions ate at least three of them," Fox said.
— Sibuya Game Reserve (@SibuyaGameRes) January 27, 2016
Workers at the reservation reportedly found high-powered rifles with silencers, an axe, small sidearms and wire cutters. The big guns are suspected to have been intended to shoot down rhinos without creating much noise, possibly to avoid detection. The axe is believed to be intended for cutting off rhino horns.
The identities of the poachers were impossible to determine from the remains. Their firearms were taken by police and will be "sent to the ballistics laboratory to see if they have been used in poaching before," according to police spokesperson Capt. Mali Govender, according to the New York Post.
The 30-square-mile reserve has been prey to illegal poachers in years past. In 2016, three rhinos were shot and had their horns cut off. Nine rhinos have been killed similarly in 2018 in South Africa's Eastern Cape, according to The Express.
In the northern part of South Africa in February, a lion poacher was killed by a pride, which left only his head behind.
Rhinoceroses live in parts of Asia and Africa, although very few live outside of sanctuaries, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. In Asia, two species are considered critically endangered while a third was upgraded from endangered to vulnerable.
In Africa the southern white rhino is near-threatened while the northern white rhino and western black rhino are extinct in the wild. The three remaining northern white rhinos are kept under 24-hour guard at a conservancy in Kenya.