05 July 2005

Western Cape game smugglers bust by CapeNature Rangers

A major Western Cape game smuggling racket involving the illegal capture and sale of over 1 000 protected wild animals worth over R1 million has been bust.

In the first of what could amount to 100 separate cases related to the smuggling operation, a professional hunter from Beaufort West, Gerald Peter Frank Minnaar, was sentenced to R750 000 or nine years' jail in the Beaufort West Regional Court for his part in the operation.

Seven years and R550 000 of his sentence was suspended for five years.

This comes after CapeNature caught Minnaar and a helicopter pilot in the act of catching game illegally in the Karoo last year. The helicopter, vehicles, capture nets and game were confiscated.

The illegal capture racket operated in the Western Cape between April 2003 until it was bust last September. Among the animals illegally caught were eland, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, klipspringer, rhebok, springbuck, blesbuck, gemsbok and red lechwe.

In a plea bargain with the state, Minnaar pleaded guilty to 14 charges, including capturing, transporting and selling protected wildlife without permits, catching game with artificial lights and using a net-gun and dart-gun without permits.

He also pleaded guilty to using a helicopter to catch protected game although he had no permit to do so, and to capturing threatened game species without a permit.

Paul Gildenhuys, of CapeNature's environmental crime investigation service, said yesterday 1 204 wild animals and nine endangered Cape mountain zebras had been caught without permits.

"This sentence sends a clear message to everyone in the wildlife industry that the capture and sale of protected wild animals without permits won't be tolerated," he said.

Court papers say the game smuggling operation was planned with precision, and involved several people, capture equipment, vehicles and a helicopter.

The vehicles, which belonged to Minnaar, had been modified to transport game. Before each capture operation, buyers had been found for the illegally caught game.

Minnaar has been a registered professional hunter in the Western Cape since 1992, and so was well aware of the provincial wildlife legislation, the papers said. He was also well aware of legislation governing the translocation of wild animals in the province.

The purpose of this legislation was to preserve the genetic purity of antelope species and to prevent cross-breeding with subspecies that occurred in different regions of the province. CapeNature would not grant permits to translocate certain animals if there was a risk of cross-breeding.

Permits for moving wild animals were also necessary to ensure that the correct procedures had been followed to prevent the spread of disease.

The movement of wild animals out of their natural range to new areas could have a significant negative impact on the vegetation, the papers said.

The pilot, from Mossel Bay, will appear in a separate case.

The illegal capture racket was uncovered after CapeNature got a tip-off last year.

They travelled to the area, near Murraysburg, expecting to stop a truck of illegal game. While they were there a helicopter appeared on the horizon and started a game capture operation in front of the officials.

They waited until the hunters had caught the game, loaded it into vehicles and moved off. Gildenhuys and his team then followed the vehicles and made the arrests.

Court papers said there was a growing trend among owners of game farms to ignore the conservation regulations.

In the jurisdiction of the Beaufort West court, there were 100 such cases in various stages of investigation by CapeNature.

Source: www.capetimes.co.za and www.iol.co.za


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