Outrage over ruling in pangolin case

2019-02-22 15:37
 A pangolin walking in the Kalahari. PHOTO: Darren Pietersen

A pangolin walking in the Kalahari. PHOTO: Darren Pietersen

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Outrage greeted news on Thursday that the 42-year-old man who tried to sell a pangolin in Pietermaritzburg was given a R240 000 fine or alternatively a wholly suspended three-year sentence. 

Pietermaritzburg magistrate Reard Abrahams took into consideration that Isaac Mutero had already spent a year in jail awaiting sentence.

The chairperson of the African Pangolin Working Group, Professor Ray Jansen, said he was outraged.

“It is ridiculous and quite pathetic of our judicial system. The National Environmental Biodiversity Act prescribes a sentence of 10 years or a R10 million fine or both.

“I am quite disgusted. The police went to a lot of trouble to apprehend the illegal wildlife trafficker who was trying to sell the pangolin in a public mall in Pietermaritzburg.”

Jansen added that pangolins are a “highly endangered species”. It has the highest protection status of any endangered species in SA, including the rhino and elephant.

He said the pangolin had been treated by the group and was in intensive care for over two weeks before it died. Treatment alone cost between R30 000 and R40 000.

Mutero pleaded guilty last year to contravening the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act. He said in a plea at the start of the case that the scaly mammal got into his brother’s homestead in Zimbabwe. He thought it would be a good idea to bring the animal into the country to protect it because people in Zimbabwe killed pangolins.

Mutero said in the written plea that his intention was to sell the animal to Croc World in Scottburgh. He said he thought the buyer he was meeting when he was arrested — in January last year at the Brookside Mall — was from Croc World.

Abrahams stressed the seriousness of the offence. He said pangolins are facing extinction and that they are being poached for medicinal purposes and nutrition.

He said the mitigating factors included that Mutero was married, had four children and had no previous or pending cases. He had also pleaded guilty, indicating remorse.

Mutero has also been in custody for over a year, he said. The aggravating factors were that Mutero did not verbally testify and take the court into his confidence.

The magistrate said the court would have liked to have questioned him about how he had brought the pangolin into SA without the authorities finding out.

Had they known, they would not have allowed it to be smuggled into the country.

Another aggravating factor was that the pangolin died, because the anteater was not given its special diet. “It is difficult to believe he had the best interests of the pangolin at heart and was not swayed by monetary gain.”

Surely Zimbabwe had its own wildlife centres the pangolin could have been taken to, he said. He also found it strange that Mutero was employed in Amanzimtoti, not too far from Croc World, yet he was arrested in Pietermaritzburg, where he tried to sell the pangolin.


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