Pride Of Lions Butchered In South Africa For Use In Black Magic Potions
WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC AND DISTRESSING CONTENT
The two male lions and two lionesses died from poisoned meat, before they had their jaws and paws hacked off with machetes to be sold on to witch doctors.
The poachers struck at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, which is set in 3,800 hectares on the edge of the country's capital, Pretoria - and is packed with wildlife, despite technically being within the city limits.
The reserve is home to 2,000 game including hippos, zebra, springbok and cheetahs, and is also known as a great spot for birds.
But head ranger Bradden Stevens, 33, was distraught when he was called out to find the blood-soaked carcasses of the beloved big cats.
The reserve once had two other lionesses called River and Serabi, who were poisoned in 2017 but the poachers had been disturbed before the animals could be mutilated.
The remaining four lions - males Jarvis and Tau and their lionesses Bashi and Tawana - were then moved to a safer plot of land at the centre of Rietvlei.
The armed poachers had detailed knowledge of the game reserve and its security, meaning they were able to break into the secure lion compound and throw meat laced with deadly poisons to the four beasts.
It took 15 minutes for them to die, painfully and slowly, before the armed gang moved in and removed 16 paws and four jaws to be used for magic potions.
Head ranger Stevens said: "My world has been turned upside down as Jarvis, Bashi, Tawana and Tau were brutally murdered for body parts in what is known as a muti killing.
"I have worked with this pride of lions for 10 years in a world where they were not exploited for human greed or vanity but in a world that was part of responsible and ethical tourism.
"These last few days have been the darkest I have ever experienced and finding my lions who were my life in the way that I found them will live and haunt me for the rest of my life.
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"I am convinced these lion parts do not go far but find their way into local muti markets with muti being body parts that are used to make traditional medicines or magic potions.
"These markets need to be shut down and those who come into game reserves where these magnificent animals are safe and butcher them in such a way need to severely punished.
"My heart is breaking for my four boys and girls and I am in a very dark place right now."
The Council's Environment and Agriculture chief, Dana Wannenburg, said that it appeared to be an 'inside job', as those who broke in seemed to not only know how to get in, but also the layout of the reserve.
He said: "We have heightened security with police patrolling the main roads in and around the reserve to boost existing security to maintain the safety of the animals such as rhinos."
The South African Police Service said an autopsy confirmed that the lions had been poisoned before they were butchered.
A spokesman said: "This horrific crime will not go unpunished."
Stevens added: "The Pride of Rietvlei was made up or rescue lions and who could not have been released into the wild as they would be unable to feed properly and survive.
"We allowed no direct interaction between tourists and our lions and our job was to teach the tourists and children about the harm the 'lion petting' and 'walking with lions' industry does.
"It is so tragic that our magnificent pride met such a savage and cruel end at the hands of men looking for money."
A complete lion skeleton can be bought in South Africa for £1,000 but in Vietnam it is worth £50,000 and the individual claws and teeth of a lion are highly prized and fetch top prices.
A traditional healer from Limpopo, who would not give her name, explained: "The lion body parts are used to make strong muti which is a witchcraft potion made by healers to cast spells.
"These can be used to protect a person from illness or cure them or make them strong or virile or even used to scare enemies away or prevent them from being attacked."
It is feared the demand for lion bones is increasing, in order to replace the far rarer tiger bones that are sought-after in South East Asia.
Dr Kelly Marnewick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust keeps a close track on lions in South Africa that have been killed or mutilated on private breeding farms and sanctuaries.
She said: "It is mostly the claws, heads and teeth of the lions the poachers are after and in 2017 there were 22 captive lions killed and this is something that we are watching closely."
Featured Image Credit: Charne Wilhelmi