A majestic pride of lions has been mutilated for witch doctors to make black magic potions, it has been claimed.
Evil poachers fed two male lions and two lionesses poisoned meat, condemning them to a slow and agonising death.
They then hacked off the animals paws and jaws with machetes, before selling them on to be brewed up in potions.
The tragic pack once ruled one of the world’s largest urban game reserves in South Africa.
They were brutally murdered at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, set in 3800 hectares on the edge of the capital Pretoria.
(Image: Facebook/Rietvlei Game Reserve)
Distraught head game ranger Bradden Stevens, 33, told how his “world was turned upside down” after finding the blood-soaked carcasses of the big cats, named as Jarvis, Bashi, Tawana and Tau.
“These last few days have been the darkest I have ever experienced and finding my lions who were my life in the way that I found them will live and haunt me for the rest of my life,” he said.
“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.
“These markets need to be shut down and those who come into game reserves where these magnificent animals are safe and butcher them in such a way need to severely punished.
“My heart is breaking for my four boys and girls and I am in a very dark place right now” he added.
The Pride of Rietvlei once boasted two other lionesses, River and Serabi.
The lions were poisoned to death by poachers who chopped their paws and jaws off
They were poisoned in 2017 but poachers were disturbed before they could mutilate them.
Four other lions were moved to a safe area at the centre of the reserve.
But the attack is now feared to be an “inside job” after an armed gang with knowledge of the reserve broke into the secure lion compound.
The Council’s Environment and Agriculture chief Mr Dana Wannenburg said: “We have heightened security with police patrolling the main roads in and around the reserve to boost existing security to maintain the safety of the animals, such as rhinos.”
An autopsy confirmed the lions were poisoned before their barbaric death.
An autopsy confirmed the lions were killed by poisoned meat (Image: Supplied)
A spokesperson for the South African Police Service said: “This horrific crime will not go unpunished.”
Mr Stevens added: “It is so tragic that our magnificent pride met such a savage and cruel end at the hands of men looking for money.”
It comes as lion bones are feared to be in high demand.
A complete lion skeleton can be bought in South Africa for £1000 but in Vietnam it is worth £50,000.
Individual claws and teeth of a lion are particularly 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.”
Alpha male Jarvis was killed as the demand for lion bones soars (Image: Facebook/Rietvlei Game Reserve)
Dr Kelly Marnewick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, added: “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 comes after three lions and a rare white tiger were hacked to death at the Jugomara Predator Park in Limpopo Province last May.
A month earlier six lions were captured and killed at the Petrus Steyn in Free State Province.