Illegal wildlife trade: Stern public warning after three arrested in North West

2020-03-10 15:18
A pair of Leopard tortoises.

A pair of Leopard tortoises. (Tengku Bahar, AFP)

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The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) warned the public not to buy wildlife after three men were arrested and animals rescued along the R556 Sun City Road in North West province.

"They have appeared in court and the one suspect is busy doing a plea bargain for a previous case. We will follow these cases through to fruition," NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit manager Douglas Wolhuter told News24.

Four leopard tortoises were rescued on Sunday and taken to the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinarians for rehabilitation.

READ | The battle against wildlife poachers is increasingly high-tech

Tortoises and chameleons are commonly traded in the area.

Wolhuter said one of the men had multiple arrests for the same crime and advised the public not to purchase wildlife from illegal traders along the roadside.

"A lot of people are doing it out of the goodness of their heart, not knowing that they are supporting the trade. We've advised many people not to ask whether they are for sale. Instead, get it on video and send it to us - hopefully with an affidavit - and we will build those cases up."

Welfare of wildlife

READ | Big drop in rhino poaching as SA government tackles syndicates

According to the NSPCA's annual report for 2019, government policy inadvertently led to an increase in the illegal trade of wildlife.

"The aggressive, highly commercialised wildlife industry supported by the government's sustainable use policy, combined with the lack of regulation and legislative failings with regard to the welfare of wildlife, stirred by demand for reduced controls by the wildlife industry, the welfare of wildlife at all levels of the South African trade chain has increased in urgency," reads the report.

Wolhuter said the policy did not always account for the welfare of wildlife.

"Often what happens is that a trade in a specific species will be approved before there are any norms and standards put in place."

He highlighted the case of lion bone quotas being increased without regard for the welfare of lions.

In that case, the Western Cape High Court ruled the 2018 lion bone quota of 1 500 bones was unlawful.

Wolhuter called for a prison sentence for the tortoise traders.

"These offenders need to feel the full might of the justice system as they continue to disregard the laws of South Africa and the sentience of these creatures. We believe the only appropriate sentence is an extended prison sentence."

Buyers

He said people often saw these animals in poor condition and thought that by buying them they were doing a good deed.

Children were also unwittingly involved in the crime, he added.

"This crime also involves innocent members of society - children are often used unknowingly to catch these animals and form part of the criminal activity; it is a crime that is destroying our natural heritage and society as a whole."

The operation to arrest the traders was conducted by the NSPCA, the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, the South African Police Services Stock Theft Unit, the North West Parks Board and the Royal Bafokeng Reaction Force.

Wolhuter urged people not to support the trade.

"Without the buyers this trade wouldn't exist."

The leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) is listed on Cites Appendix II, which means it is not currently threatened. However, it may be threatened with extinction should trade not be closely controlled.

Read more on:    nspca  |  mahikeng  |  animals  |  crime
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