Poachers in South Africa sentenced four majestic lions at Chameleon Village Lion Park in South Africa to a painful death, after feeding them chicken laced with poison as part of a plan to hack off their body parts for ‘muti‘.
Male lions Thor and Mumford and white lionesses Isis and Mia died in agony after the killers tossed the deadly meals into their compounds and waited for it to take effect.
The poachers were most likely intending to cut off the lions’ paws to steal their claws, and hack off their upper and lower jaws to steal their teeth.
However they were disturbed before they could mutilate the lions.
Dogs at a small holding next to the Chameleon Village Lion Park at Hartbeespoort, north of Johannesburg, went berserk and woke their owners in the early hours.
The poachers apparently fled when they heard challenges being shouted.
Guards at the lion park rushed to check on the predators, and sadly found four of their six lions lying dead in the darkness.
Owner Hennie Pio, 31, said: “I had looked after these lions for 11 years and had bottle fed three of them with my wife Isabel and the hatred I feel for who did this is just huge.
“There is no other reason for them to kill these beautiful animals other than to mutilate them and steal their body parts to be sold to the highest bidder for black magic potions.
“What angers me is that this is happening more and more and nobody gets caught. I have lost my four best friends but I am just thankful that they had no time to cut them up.
“If I had found them there like that then it would have destroyed me without question.
“We have security guards on-site and we are investigating what happened but if we are going to rebuild then we will have to improve our security to stop it happening again.
“My son WJ is only three years old and he knows and plays with these lions and they are his friends and he keeps asking where they are and I have told him they are now in heaven.
“Somebody out there knows who is behind this but it is a wall of silence” he said.
Hennie and wife Isabel, 26, who run the popular lion park – which also has a snake and reptile centre and an African park and traditional shops – said they were devastated.
The four lions who were killed were white lionesses Isis, 11, and Mia, 7, and tawny lions Thor, 7, and Mumford, 8.. . leaving the park with two surviving lions and two tigers.
Hennie said: “We are an educational centre and teach children and schools about lions and tens of thousands of people had so much pleasure from these animals over the years.
“I have lost 11 years of my life thanks to these evil people who see nothing wrong in feeding these magnificent animals meat filled with poison and then hacking them to into bits.
“The police have been excellent and I just hope that they find who did it” he said.
Just last week four lions known as the Pride of Rietvlei were poisoned and had their paws and jaws cut off by poachers who struck at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve 40 miles away in Pretoria.
The reserve is one of the biggest urban game reserves in the world and its excellent security was breached.
Head Ranger Bradden Stevens, 33, was distraught when he was called to examine the blood-soaked carcasses of the four big cats that he had dedicated nearly a decade of his life to protecting.
In April last year Gert Claasen, 48, had 3 lions butchered for body parts and 3 more killed and stolen to be butchered later from his reserve in Petrus Steyn in Free State Province.
In May last year at the Jugomara Predator Park in Limpopo Province distraught owner Justin Fernandes, 32, had three lions and a rare white tiger hacked to bits for their body parts.
And in July last year Christa Sayman, 55, lost six lions to poachers who hacked off the heads and paw of four fully grown lions for ‘black magic potions’ and killed two other lion cubs.
A complete lion skeleton can be bought in South Africa for £1000 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 said: “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,” she said.
Dr Kelly Marnewick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust keeps a close track on lions mutilated and poached or killed on private breeding farms and sanctuaries throughout South Africa.
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.”
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.
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