Groundbreaking sentence in pangolin poaching case
On 17 September, 2019 at Silver Oaks, Pretoria, members of the Cullinan Stock Theft & Endangered Species Unit, assisted by members from K9 Benoni, Silverton and Law Enforcement Officials from the Gauteng Department of Agriculture & Rural Development also known as the Green Scorpions, and members of the African Pangolin Working Group conducted a sting operation in which a pangolin was offered for sale to an undercover agent.
Four suspects were subsequently arrested and the vehicle they had used to transport the pangolin was seized. At the time of the arrest, the female pangolin was still alive but severely dehydrated and badly compromised. The pangolin died a few days later at the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital due to malnourishment, dehydration and various physical injuries sustained during captivity. The pangolin had suffered severely while it was kept in captivity as its bones and tendons were clearly visible due to emaciation.
Charges against two of the four suspects were withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Pretoria due to insufficient evidence to prove their involvement. Advocate Jeff Nethononda from the Director of Public Prosecutions, Pretoria office, prosecuted the case in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court where the presiding magistrate was Ms Luut. The investigation led by Sergeant Morné Kemp from Cullinan Stock Theft & Endangered Species Unit, worked hand in glove with the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) to secure a successful prosecution and conviction.
Professor Jansen, attached to the Faculty of Science at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, and the founder and Chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group, testified in aggravation that the illegal trade in pangolins makes them the world’s most trafficked mammal. Professor Jansen testified that pangolins are ant eaters, have no defence mechanism and are totally harmless. He further testified that pangolins, globally, are critically endangered and close to being extinct in the near future.
On March 15, 2021, the 2 accused were found guilty and sentencing handed down by the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on May 19, 2021 as follows:
Accused 1: Orateng Mekwe, a South African citizen, was sentenced to 10 years direct imprisonment without the option of a fine for Contravening Sec 57(1) of National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 and for carrying out a restricted activity pertaining to the illegal trade of Pangolins.
Accused 2: Jealous Rungano, a Zimbabwean citizen, was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment and to be deported back to Zimbabwe i.t.o Sec 49(1)(a) of Immigration Act 13 of 2002.
They were both declared unfit to possess a firearm i.t.o Sec 103 of the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000. Application for leave to appeal was granted.
A clear message
Part of the magistrate’s judgment was that a clear message must be sent to poachers that the illegal trade of wildlife will not be tolerated, just like rhinos, the pangolins and all other wildlife species need to be protected for future generations to appreciate.
The NPA welcomed the sentence as it is the highest sentence ever imposed upon conviction of pangolin poaching in South Africa.
The African Pangolin Working Group’s Chairman, Professor Jansen says that this sentence not only sets a South African and an African continental precedence but also a global precedence for the highest jail sentence given to a pangolin poacher.