100 years ago, there were more than 200,000 lions living in the wild in Africa. Today, only about 10% of them remain. Lions have disappeared from 95% of their historic range , and many live inside of protected animal preserves in order to protect the animals from poaching.
Unfortunately, wildlife preserves don’t have a perfect record of protecting the animals that live inside. On Friday, October 25th, the bodies of four lions were found mutilated by poachers in Rietvlei Nature Reserve, an urban game reserve in South Africa.
Authorities believe that the animals were fed poisoned meat, which would have induced an incredibly painful death, and after death, the animals’ paws and jaws were removed. These body parts are believed to be ingredients for “magic potions” used in occult rituals or muti, a local term for South African traditional medicine.
According to investigators working the case, the poachers are believed to have had in-depth knowledge of the layout of the reserve, allowing them to easily access the pride of lions they targeted.
“These people knew how to gain access through the main roads and where to cut into the fences to gain access to the lions,” said Dana Wannenburg from the South African Environmental Department in an interview with Independent Online . “No ordinary person could have known that information.”
“This brutal act will not go unpunished and Tshwane Conservation officials, SAPS (South African Police Service) and national and provincial departments will work round the clock to identify and apprehend the perpetrators.
“Rietvlei’s lions were the pride of Tshwane and a major tourist attraction, and their loss will be felt for many years to come.”
The pain of the experience has stuck with locals as well as those who work at the reserve. Bradden Stevens, the reserve’s head ranger, says his world has been “turned upside down” by the poaching of the lions.
“My heart is breaking for my four boys and girls and I am in a very dark place right now,” he said in an interview with MailOnline .
“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.”
The lions were all rescue animals unable to survive on their own in the wild. The reserve was their last hope for survival.
The investigation is still in early stages, according to Wannenburg, but authorities are committed to bringing the poachers responsible for this crime to justice.