This come-to-blows occurred on the Sibuya Game Reserve Kenton-on-Sea in Eastern Province, South Africa.

Staff at the park found hunting rifles with silencer, wire cutters and an axe used to cut rhino horns at the bloody scene.

A helicopter was brought in to search for other casualties to no avail as yet.

Owner Nick Fox, 60, said in a press release on Facebook:

“We found enough body parts and three pairs of empty shoes which suggest to us that the lions ate at least three of them but it is thick bush and there could be more.

They came heavily armed with hunting rifles and axes which we have recovered and enough food to last them for several days so we suspect they were after all of our rhinos here. But the lions are our watchers and guardians and they picked the wrong pride and became a meal.

Whilst we are saddened at any loss of life the poachers came here to kill our animals and this sends out a very clear message to any other poachers that you will not always be the winner.

The lions may have eaten more of them it is difficult to tell as the area is very thick with bush and you cannot be sure what they have taken off to feed on elsewhere.

The best estimate we have so far is that three of the gang were eaten.

They were armed with high powered rifles with silencers, an axe for the horns, wire cutters and side arms, so were clearly intent on killing rhinos and cutting off their horns.”

The bodily remains were discovered during sunset on July 3. Staff however had to wait until daylight the following day to safely check the area and salvage what they could.

Police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender confirmed the remains were found in the lion camp.

She said:

“We do not know identities but firearms have been taken by the police and will be sent to the ballistics laboratory to see if they have been used in poaching before.”

Rhino poaching remains at a critical level, according to the South African government, which today released statistics on rhino poaching and rhino horn smuggling in 2017. National Geographic reports 1,028 rhinos were illegally killed last year, 26 fewer than in 2016 but far higher than the 13 killed in 2007.

South Africa is viewed as the primary custodian of Africa’s rhinos. With 18,796 white rhinos and 1,916 black rhinos as of the last estimate at the end of 2010, this represents approximately 93% and 40% of the total white and black rhino population respectively.

In recent years poaching levels have soared, Save The Rhino says, and the current crisis continues to create debates worldwide about the best way to tackle this illegal practice