A chewed-up shoe is all that is left of one of the poachers who broke into a South African game reserve to hunt rhinos, and ended up eaten by a pride of lions.

At least three hunters are believed to have been devoured by the predators at the Sibuya Game Reserve near Kenton-on-Sea in Eastern Province, South Africa, earlier this week.

Questions have since been raised over whether the lions, who are among the many species visitors can come close to on safari trips through the park, would now be a danger to humans and have to be put down, reports Daily Mail.

There are fears that they might have developed a taste for human flesh, having successfully hunted down and eaten the poachers.

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Three poachers eaten by lions after the men broke into South African nature reserve to slaughter rhinos

However, owner Nick Fox has sought to assure any worried potential visitors, saying they have not noticed any changes in the pride's behaviour around humans and will continue to monitor them.

"Although we will continue to be extremely vigilant we remain positive that this incident will not necessitate any changes to the status quo," he said.

The general consensus in the game industry is that lions view a game viewing vehicle containing people as something entirely different from individuals who are walking on the ground.

Protecting the lands: Roxy the anti-poacher guard dog with her handler as they patrol the park. Photo / Supplied
Protecting the lands: Roxy the anti-poacher guard dog with her handler as they patrol the park. Photo / Supplied

"At Sibuya Game Reserve we only view game from specialised game viewing vehicles and not on foot due to the extremely dense bush and thick forest on the Reserve."

One head and a number of bloodied body parts and limbs have been recovered from the area, along with three pairs of empty shoes.

Staff at Sibuya also found high powered hunting rifles with silencers, wire cutters and an axe used by poachers to cut off rhino horns.

A helicopter was called in to search for more possible poachers, but none have so far been found.

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Mr Fox, 60, said: '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.

The poachers had brought high powered hunting rifles with silencers, wire cutters and an axe known to be used by poachers to cut off rhino horns. Photo / Sibuya Game Reserve
The poachers had brought high powered hunting rifles with silencers, wire cutters and an axe known to be used by poachers to cut off rhino horns. Photo / Sibuya Game Reserve

"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 game reserve is one of the most popular in the Eastern Cape, and it is visited by many British tourists.

As well as rhinos and lions, Sibuya's 30 square miles is also is home to the rest of Africa's Big Five: elephant, buffalo and leopard.

In 2016, the reserve lost three rhinos when poachers got into the park and shot them dead and cut off their horns.

However, this time the hunters became the hunted, when they got in the way of the resident lion pride.

Mr Fox said: "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.

Lions at the Sibuya Game Reserve which would have been among those that devoured three rhino poachers this week. Photo / Sibuya Game Reserve
Lions at the Sibuya Game Reserve which would have been among those that devoured three rhino poachers this week. Photo / Sibuya Game Reserve

"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 remains of the bodies were found as darkness fell on July 3rd, but staff had to wait until daylight on July 4th when the area could be declared safe to go in and recover what was left

Police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender confirmed that the remains had been found in the lion camp and that detectives were on the scene trying to work out how many were eaten.

Captain Govender 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."

Poaching is a major issue on the Eastern Cape with nine rhinos killed by illegal hunters on reserves this year.

In February a poacher was killed by lions in the Umbabat Game Reserve near the Kruger National Park, and his family were forced to identify him using all that was left - his head.