Johannesburg – Hawkers selling chameleons, tortoises and snakes on street corners were becoming more advanced, even accepting payment via e-wallet and EFT, the NSPCA has said.
While the traders mostly targeted tourists travelling on the road from Sun City, the illegal trade was now mushrooming in other parts of the North West as well as in Krugersdorp, on the West Rand.
NSPCA spokesperson, Isabel Wenzel, pleaded with the public to stop buying the animals from hawkers, adding that this would be the only way to kill their business.
"The traders stand alongside the roads and pretend to be selling other things and when a motorist is interested, they usually also reveal that they also have these little animals stuffed in their pockets," said Wenzel.
"Often we find the animals in a bad condition. We find they have been given no fluids or food. Sometimes you find the animals stuffed into tyres and containers and coke bottles with their tops cut off. The sellers will hide them and only go and get them if they have a willing customer," said Wenzel.
Most of the traders targeted tourists returning from Sun City.
She believed they used children to catch the animals in the bush and they rewarded them with a few rands while they in turn made a large profit from the sale of the animals.
Raids last year saw a total of seven people arrested. Wenzel said some of the cases were still ongoing while the others had been released without a jail sentence.
"The problem is that the laws are not harsh enough because they get a pittance of a fine, a slap on the wrist, and they are back trading again. Tortoises and chameleons aren't on the highest protection order," she said.
Now, the NSPCA was hoping to catch repeat offenders and get a heftier punishment for them.
On a regular weekend, a customer could pay R250 for a chameleon from a street trader but the prices had sky-rocketed during the festive period, said Wenzel.
"They were selling a package of R1 500. This package was two tortoises, a snake and chameleon," Wenzel said.
She said some customers bought the animals to rescue them from the harsh conditions they found them in and would sometimes release them back into the wild or take them to an animal rehabilitation centre.
"But we are saying, they shouldn't buy them because it increases their trade," she said. "As soon as the [buyers] get the money, they are encouraged to get more. If no one wouldn't buy from them, their business would suffer and they wouldn't do this anymore."