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Exotic pet rip-off sham exposed

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capuchin monkeys

AP

Capuchin monkeys. File photo by AP

Pretoria - It is possible to buy almost anything from the classified advertisements in the newspaper – even a lion cub. But is this the real deal or a clever scam to dupe innocent buyers into paying thousands for a pet they are not allowed to keep or one that does not even exist?

The Pretoria News followed up two of these classified advertisements and tried to buy a lion cub and two capuchin monkeys.

The lion cub was offered for $1 000 (about R8 658) and the two monkeys together for R8 500. A discount of R500 was given for buying both monkeys.

The lion and monkeys were said to come from Upington. The animals were ordered separately, but the information on their whereabouts and payment was identical.

Both advertisements had the same telephone number, but different e-mail addresses. The e-mail address for the lion cubs belonged to one Tefonkie Yanick, the other to a Kaylie Marsha. In both instances, the seller identified himself as David vanDeheer. The same telephone number appears on advertisements all over the world, from cars to husky puppies for sale.

When the cellphone number was searched on the internet, a company came up. The business owner was identified as Yanick.

lion cub

A lion cub. File photo by Reuters.

REUTERS

Further investigation revealed that the business Global Sourcing Co Ltd was not registered with Cipro. The website indicates the business was registered in November, but no registration number could be found.

Once the order is placed, the animals are taken to a shipping company, SAA Freight International, in Upington. The company’s website (provided as www.saafreightinternational.com), however, has an address and contact details in Durban. When the shipping company was contacted, one Stone Sikosana (who could not be traced) said the company was based in Joburg.

The company’s registration number was requested, but the director said all the details were on the website. The address given revealed the company did not resemble a business complex on Google maps. This might have been a mistake, but the business telephone number also does not exist.

The Pretoria News placed its orders separately, but was given the same reference numbers. The shipping company contacted the News for payment.

The company required payment in full – into the personal bank account of one DP Shabalala – before the animals were to be delivered to the buyer’s address.

Payment was to be made by EFT. The News asked to pick up the animals from SAA Freight International and pay cash.

But the director said company policy did not allow for this. The full amount was to be paid electronically or by cash deposit before the animals were shipped. When the News did not make the payment, vanDeheer contacted the paper and asked for the exact time of payment.

The advertisement’s picture, when searched, proved to be one of two lion cubs in a zoo in Mexico. At the News’s request pictures of both monkeys along with a video of one of them were received. The photos were searched on the internet and found to match another advertisement in North Carolina, in the US, where a different person was selling capuchin monkeys.

The video could not be found on the internet. Also, the pictures showed both monkeys were female, but vanDeheer initially said they were male and female.

VanDeheer did not want to be paid directly and said the shipping company would handle payment.

The News was never asked for valid permits or papers to show the animals were allowed to be kept by the buyer.

Dr Dorianne Eliott, a vet in the exotic animals section at Onderstepoort, said it was illegal to own indigenous exotic animals without a permit, including wild cats, such as lions. If discovered without a permit, the animals were typically taken to a zoo for safe keeping until court proceedings were complete.

“In this case, it is most likely a scam,” she said. “These scams are very common. Often there are no animals involved, just people looking for money,” she said.

Advertisers often claimed to be looking for a good home for the animals and the buyer only needed to cover shipping fees, she said.

Roopa Singh, spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said: “The National Environmental Biodiversity Act and the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations are silent in terms of whether a wild animal can be kept as a pet.”

A permit was supposed to be issued to keep exotic pets, such as lions, and environmental management inspectors monitored compliance with permit conditions.

Eliott also said there were loopholes in the law.

Singh declined to comment on the advertisement’s credibility or legality but said it had been sent to the biodiversity enforcement and compliance team to verify the permits allowing trade in the animals.

The Department of Environmental Affairs does not offer guidelines on how to care for exotic pets.

But the Agriculture Department administers the Animals Protection Act that prescribes how to care for animals in captivity. The NSPCA offers brochures informing people of exotic animals as pets – and its possible dangers.

A Pretoria family were duped out of thousands last year in a similar scam. The family said their son tried to by a papillon puppy.

“It was a guy with a Russian accent claiming to sell them. Once we had paid the deposit another guy called saying we have to hire a special crate for R6 000,” said the son.

He decided to fetch the dog himself but found himself at the given address – behind backpackers in Nelspruit – with no dog in sight.

He said he had their bank account and cellphone numbers and thought it would be easy to track down the thief. He alleged that police refused to open a case, claiming he “had to provide the address for them to be able to get the details from MTN” – and the only address he had was fake.

Christine Kuch, communications officer for the NSPCA, said these “scam” advertisements took many forms, from wildlife to puppies for sale. She said the matter had been taken to Interpol in 2008, but the tricksters changed their details too frequently.

She urged publications not to accept advertisements for live animals, real or not, because this would put the scamsters out of business.

“Regardless of whether it is legal to advertise and claim to sell certain species, there is a moral issue and a responsibility towards readers,” she said of newspapers placing these advertisements.

The acting editor of the Pretoria News, Val Bojé, warned readers not to respond to the advertisement as it was clearly a fraud. She regretted that those who placed it had found a loophole in the classified ads online booking system but gave the assurance that extra measures had been taken to prevent a recurrence. A number of other “exotic pet” advertisements had been blocked, she said.

Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloko said the matter had been handed to its endangered species unit to investigate.

lali.vanzuydam@inl.co.za

karabo.seanego@inl.co.za

Pretoria News


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