South Africa arrests poachers during operation thunderstorm

25 July 2018

 

Four live sharks, a live pangolin, 700kg of abalone,   ivory and rhino horn were seized, and 13 people were arrested for a range of illegal wildlife trade charges as part of South Africa’s contribution to the global Operation Thunderstorm in May 2018.

The INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group had, during its meeting in Singapore in 2017discussed the month-long global operation against illegal trade in wildlife and timber.  Codenamed Thunderstorm, the operation had targeted the people and networks behind cross-border wildlife crime. 

During the global operation INTERPOL announced that 1 974 seizures were recorded and 1 400 people arrested during investigations and searches in 92 countries during the month of May.

Among the seizures worldwide were 43 tonnes of wild meat including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale and zebra; 1.3 tonnes of raw and processed elephant ivory; 27 000 reptiles including 869 alligators/crocodiles, 9 590 turtles and 10 000 snakes; and almost 4,000 birds including pelicans, ostriches, parrots and owls.  In addition, officials had seized 48 live primates, 14 big cats including tiger, lion, leopard and jaguar, and several tonnes of wood and timber.

The operation saw eight tonnes of pangolin scales seized worldwide, including almost four tonnes by Vietnamese maritime authorities on board a ship arriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In South Africa, the South African Police Service; the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks); SARS Customs; the Environmental Management Inspectorate (Green Scorpions) from  the Department of Environmental Affairs, SANParks,  the provincial conservation authorities and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry law enforcement officers participated in the operation.

Attention was paid to transnational trafficking routes originating at airports and other ports of entry and exit between South Africa and Europe, Botswana and Zimbabwe, as well as to international mail centres and the value chain of rhino horn trafficking syndicates.

Amongst the success recorded was the confiscation of four endangered Spotted Ragged Tooth Sharks, also known as the Sand Tiger Shark or Dusky Shark, at Cape Town International Airport during an inspection of a container holding the illegal consignment. 

The seizure of the live sharks which were being exported to the Netherlands is an indication that the problem of live shark smuggling is bigger than initially believed as demand for live sharks from aquariums worldwide has increased.

The sharks were seized after it was determined that they were being exported without the required permits in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act and the Marine Threatened or Protected Species Regulations.  The sharks had originated from Port Alfred.  A laptop, cellphone and documents were seized during the operation.  No arrests have been made and the investigation is continuing.

Two men were arrested in Daveyton by the Hawks, SANParks and the Environmental Management Inspectorate of the Department of Environmental Affairs  for allegedly dealing in rhino horn.  

The arrest was the result of a two-year investigation by the Hawks, and the Green Scorpions in SANParks, to identify the criminal supply chain and receivers of rhino horn in Gauteng.   Mandla Mashele, 37, and Kelvin Malapane, 38, were arrested for illegally buying rhino horns, contravention of endangered species regulations, racketeering and money laundering. 

Two suspects were arrested for the illegal possession of elephant ivory by customs officials at the Ramatlabama Border Post between South Africa and Botswana.  The suspects were travelling to South Africa when they were arrested during a search of their vehicle.  Two kilograms of ivory was confiscated.

Six men were arrested in Pretoria for the illegal possession of a Pangolin.  The operation, led by the Hawks, followed a suspect offering a Pangolin for sale to a policeman. The Pangolin was seized and sent for veterinary care.

Three men were arrested in Walkerville on 11 May for the unlawful possession of 700kg of abalone valued at R3.5 million, and operating a fish processing facility without a permit.  Members of the police and the Green Scorpions had executed a search warrant on the facility.  A total of 18 000 units of abalone were seized.

Members of the Green Scorpions, customs officials and Fisheries Control Officers of DAFF rummaged a ship in Durban harbour, while ad hoc tailgate and container searches were also done in the harbour.  During dockside inspections by the Green Scorpions and Fisheries Control Officers of the validity of fishing permits of local fishermen, abandoned catches that included mussels and under-sized fish were seized.  No arrests were made. 

No illegal items were recovered during search of items at the International Mail Centre in Durban.

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Albi Modise
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