A MAJESTIC lion pride has been butchered by poachers for witch doctor potions at one of the world’s largest game reserves.
Two lions and two lionesses died in agony after eating poisoned meat in South Africa, before having their jaws and paws hacked off with machetes to be sold for black magic brews.
Rietvlei Nature Reserve’s head ranger Bradden Stevens, 33, was left distraught when he was called to the blood-soaked carcasses of the big cats that he has dedicated nearly a decade of his life to.
The evil gang struck at the site, set in 3,800ha on the edge of the capital Pretoria and which is packed with wildlife including rhino, leopards and buffalo.
Initially the Pride of Rietvlei had two other lionesses called River and Serabi.
They were poisoned two years ago, but the poachers were disturbed before they could mutilate their bodies.
The remainder of the group – two males Jarvis and Tau and their lionesses Bashi and Tawana – were moved to a safer 250ha area at the centre of the game reserve.
However staff discovered last week that an armed gang, with detailed knowledge of the site, broke into the secure lion compound.
Within 15 minutes of being fed meat laced with poison the remaining lions suffered a slow and agonising death before the poachers moved in with sharp machetes and hacked off 16 paws and four jaws.
Bradden said he was “heartbroken. My world has been turned upside down.
“Jarvis, Bashi, Tawana and Tau were brutally murdered for body parts in what is known as a muti killing… to make traditional medicines or magic potions.
“These markets need to be shut down.”
A South African Police Service spokesman said an autopsy confirmed the lions were poisoned, and added: “This horrific crime will not go unpunished.”
Bradden said: “The Pride of Rietvlei was made up of rescue lions who could not have been released into the wild as they would be unable to feed properly and survive.
“It is so tragic that our magnificent pride met such a savage and cruel end at the hands of men looking for money” he said.
A complete lion skeleton can be bought in South Africa for £1,000 but in Vietnam it is worth £50,000.
The brutal butchery is the latest in a string of such attacks.
At the Jugomara Predator Park in Limpopo Province last May, three lions and a rare white tiger were hacked to bits for their body parts.
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BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
An unnamed traditional healer from Limpopo said the lion body parts are used to make “strong muti 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.”
Dr Kelly Marnewick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust said: “It is mostly the claws, heads and teeth of the lions the poachers are after – in 2017 there were 22 captive lions killed.”
It is feared lion bones are now becoming sought after to replace the far rarer tiger bones in demand in South East Asia, which are being smuggled out for use in traditional medicines.