There were more than 1 million black and white rhinos roaming the savannas of Africa 150 years ago. Today, only an estimated 29,000 rhinos remain on the entire planet.
The reason? Poaching.
Last year alone, poachers killed more than 1,000 rhinos in South Africa, where most of the world’s rhinoceros population lives, according to National Geographic. Although poaching is illegal, rhino poachers routinely break into parks to hunt the large mammals for their valuable horns, which are then sold on the black market to people who (erroneously) believe that they can be used for medicinal purposes.
Just last week, in fact, a group of poachers broke into the Sibuya Game Reserve in South Africa to do their dirty work.
But instead of finding rhinos, they found a pride of hungry lions.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Nick Fox, the reserve’s owner, recounted what happened when the poachers stumbled upon the big cats.
The group of poachers had broken into South Africa’s Sibuya Game Reserve earlier this week in the hopes of getting their hands on rhino horns.
Poaching is “a massive problem” in South Africa, Nick told BuzzFeed. “Rhino horn has now become more valuable than gold per gram.”
But before the poachers could find and kill rhinos, they stumbled upon a pack of six unfriendly lions living in the park.
The lions must have been hungry: One of the game reserve’s staff members found human remains near the big cats on Tuesday.
The next morning, a veterinarian tranquilized the lions so that police and an anti-poaching unit could investigate the scene.
“That’s when they found the axe [sic], various pieces of clothing, shoes,” Nick said. “Everything was very spread out.”
That ax was a “surefire sign” that the men were poachers, Nick told the Washington Post.
There must have been at least three poachers in the group, because that’s how many pairs of shoes and gloves were found at the scene, he added.
Coverage of the poachers’ ill-fated hunting trip has gone viral, and it’s safe to say that no one’s taking their side:
Nick is particularly grateful that the big cats were present when the poachers broke into his game reserve: “I just thank my lions,” he told BuzzFeed. “They saved our rhinos from another onslaught.”
Nick said “another” because this wasn’t the first time poachers had targeted rhinos at Sibuya Game Reserve.
Poachers killed three of the reserve’s rhinos for their horns in early 2016. It was a particularly upsetting loss, Nick said, because one of the animals had been “hand-reared” by the reserve’s staff.
So what’s going to happen to the man-eating lions? Will they be punished in any way for attacking humans?
Thankfully, according to Nick, the lions won’t face any consequences for the attack because they’re not a threat to humans exploring the park from specialized game-viewing vehicles like they’re supposed to.
“The general consensus in the game industry is that lions view a game-viewing vehicle containing people as something entirely different from individuals who are walking on the ground,” Nick told the Post.
He added: “If you stumble into them [the lions] and don’t act the right way, they will see you as prey.”
You’ve been warned, wannabe poachers.