‘I wanted to protect it’

2018-11-02 15:03
A file image of a pangolin.

A file image of a pangolin. (Maria Diekmann, REST)

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A man said on Thursday that a pangolin “wandered” into his brother’s house in Zimbabwe and that he wanted to bring it into this country to protect it.

However, when he found out that he could get more than R50 000 for it, he decided to sell it.

This is what Isaac Mutero told the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court in his guilty plea.

Magistrate Reard Abrahams convicted him, finding that he had admitted all the allegations against him and that he had contravened the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act.

Pangolins are scaly mammals which are an endangered species and in high demand by traffickers.

Mutero’s advocate, Jaci Gates, read out the plea. She said that on January 13, he was contacted by his brother in Zimbabwe who said that a pangolin had wandered into his homestead. His brother caught it “because the people in that area often killed pangolins to sell them”.

“I agreed with my brother that it would be better to approach a reptile farm in South Africa so that the pangolin could have a chance at life. I realised that pangolin could also be sold and that I could make a profit,” he said.

The man added he approached Crocworld in Scottburgh to inquire if it would be interested in buying the pangolin.

To his “surprise”, he found out that pangolins can be sold for over R50 000. Mutero said a person at Crocworld informed him that he would get someone to contact him.

When he was contacted, he believed the person to be from Crocworld, he said. This man pretended to be interested in buying the pangolin. “I was under the impression that I was discussing the matter with a genuine buyer,” he said.

Mutero added that he and the man met at Brookside Mall in Pietermaritzburg. The man told him he already had a pangolin and wanted to breed the two. The man said that Mutero should fetch it from Zimbabwe and he would pay the travel costs. In addition, he promised to pay him R85 000 for the animal.

“I left for Zimbabwe on January 14, picked up the pangolin and returned to South Africa,” he said.

Two days afterwards, he met with the man again at the same mall. Another man was also present. He turned out to be the investigating officer in this case. The men took possession of the pangolin and arrested Mutero for smuggling an endangered species across the border into South Africa, he said.

Gates told the court that she will be asking that a wholly suspended sentence be imposed. She asked that the matter be adjourned for correctional supervision reports.

State prosecutor Johann Senekal indicated he too will be leading evidence, in aggravation of sentencing. The case has been postponed to December.

The pangolin died of dehydration a few days after it was found.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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