CapeNature Partners with SAPS on Lizard Case
CapeNature, in partnership with the Malmesbury office of the South African Police Service(SAPS) Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit, recently dealt a major blow to wild animal traffickers through the successful prosecution of four foreign nationals in three separate cases in the Bellville Regional Priority Court on May 22nd, 2018.
On November 24th, 2017, Mr Koji Ikoma of Japan was arrested after he tried to evade a SAPS roadblock outside Bitterfontein. During the pursuit, Mr Ikoma threw a cooler bag out of his car’s window. When the bag was retrieved after the dust had settled, the SAPS members were surprised to find 48 Armadillo girdled lizards in the cooler bag.
Members of CapeNature Conservation Services, Biodiversity Crime Unit and the SAPS Stock Theft Unit Malmesbury office attended the scene and conducted the investigation. Mr Ikoma pleaded guilty to three charges involving the collection, possession and transport of 48 Armadillo girdled lizards (Ouroborous cataphractus) on May 22, 2018. In his plea, Mr Ikoma indicated that he had collected the lizards to sell for financial gain. Mr Ikoma was sentenced to a total of R1-million or 13 years’ imprisonment.
Mr. Takashi Handa from Japan was arrested on December 29th, 2017 near Nuwerus while he was busy collecting Armadillo girdled lizards in the veld. He was found to have five Armadillo girdled lizards in his possession. CapeNature staff and Malmesbury SAPS Stock Theft Unit again attended the scene and investigated the case.
Mr Handa pleaded guilty on May 22nd, 2018 to charges regarding the collection and possession of the Armadillo girdled lizards without permits and was sentenced to R300,000 or 6 years’ imprisonment.
On March 7th, 2018, Mr Leo Träger and Mr Holger Pelz, both of Germany, were arrested by Lutzville SAPS members while they were in possession of 21 Armadillo girdled lizards, 2 Karoo girdled lizards and 3 Peers Nama lizards. CapeNature and Malmesbury Stock Theft Unit again joined forces to investigate the case.
Finally, on May 22nd, 2018 Mr Träger and Mr Pelz pleaded guilty to charges regarding the collection and transport of 21 Armadillo girdled lizards, 2 Karoo girdled lizards (Karusasaurus polyzonus) and 3 Peers Nama lizards (Namazonurus peersi) and for the collection of these lizards without the landowners’ written permission. Mr Pelz and Mr Träger were each sentenced to R250,000 or 2 years’ imprisonment.
Through the teamwork between CapeNature Conservation Services, the BCU, SAPS Nuwerus, SAPS Lutzville, the Malmesbury office of the SAPS Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit and the Organised Crime office of the National Prosecuting Authority Western Cape, three successful cases resulted in substantial penalties being handed down by the Court.
“CapeNature welcomes the sentences handed down by the Bellville Regional Court,” said CapeNature’s CEO Dr. Razeena Omar. “We would also like to congratulate all parties that participated in achieving this result. This teamwork again delivers a blow to biodiversity criminals who are exploiting the biota of the Western Cape.”
CapeNature’s Biodiversity Crime Unit Manager, Paul Gildenhuys, said, “These sentences send a clear message to biodiversity criminals that we will deal harshly with those who seek to profit illegally from our biodiversity.”
He emphasized that the teamwork between CapeNature’s VanRhynsdorp office, the Biodiversity Crime Unit, SAPS Stock Theft Unit Malmesbury and the Organised Crime office of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Cape Town office had resulted in these successes. Gildenhuys said, “This once again demonstrates the kind of successes that can be achieved when law enforcement agencies work together to ensure a successful prosecution.”
CapeNature is a public institution mandated to promote and ensure biodiversity conservation within the Western Cape. The organisation manages most of the mountain catchments and reserves that supply ecosystem services to the citizens of the Western Cape. This requires good scientific data, a sound understanding of fynbos ecology and commitment to the principles of integrated biodiversity management and planning.
Much of these efforts are in remote areas out of the public eye, but have a direct bearing on the quality of life of millions of people in the province.