Four caught transporting illegally harvested medicinal plants

2008-12-17 00:00

The trade in illegal medicinal plants is growing and has alarming consequences for both conservation and the Zulu culture.

There are six million users of traditional medicine in KwaZulu-Natal, and the medicinal plant trade is worth an estimated R300 million a year and climbing.

This was said yesterday by KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife resource ecologist Steve McKean.

Illegal harvesting of plants required for traditional medicines has resulted in dwindling populations of these plants in the wild.

McKean was reacting to a report that four people were detained and 84 bags of indigenous plants — believed to include specially protected varieties — were seized by Ezemvelo Wildlife officials while being transported on the main road between Creighton and Ixopo on Tuesday night.

The plants are believed to have been destined for an informal market in Durban.

The three women and a man caught in possession of the plants face criminal prosecution.

SAPS Inspector Riaan van Rooyen of the organised crime unit, who is tasked with investigating environmental crime, confirmed that the accused are expected to appear in court at Ixopo tomorrow.

EKZNW’s district conservation officer for Richmond/ Ixopo, Brent Coverdale, said the bags contained a variety of plants and bark of trees such as the protected Cape chestnut and red stinkwood. They were discovered by chance.

“The vehicle transporting the bags had stopped at the side of the road after the rear axle on the trailer broke.

“People were busy packing the bags on to the vehicle roof when our honorary officer drove past and stopped and asked to see the necessary permits.”

Coverdale said he has inspected the bags and made a “preliminary identification” of the plants and tree bark.

McKean said he will take a closer look at the haul tomorrow to identify accurately all the species involved.

“Only then will it be possible to estimate the monetary value of the plants.

“We have an idea what the various plants sell for at the informal markets, but this is undervalued in terms of what society is losing,” he said.

McKean said that for every one of the culprits caught there are at least double the number getting through.

He said conservationists are working closely with the justice system, including the prosecution service and the police, in a bid to raise awareness about the impact of the problem and need for tough penalties.

“We provide evidence in aggravation of sentence in these cases,” he added.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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