A Japanese man faces a stiff sentence of R1 million or 13 years’ imprisonment for the illegal possession and transport of 48 Armadillo girdled lizards.
This comes after investigations by environmentalists and several law enforcement agencies dealt a heavy blow to wild animal traffickers.
Koji Ikoma and three other foreigners were successfully convicted in three separate cases in the Bellville Regional Priority Court last week.
Teamwork by CapeNature Conservation Services, the Biodiversity Crime Unit, the Nuwerus, Lutzville and Malmesbury police offices of the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit and the Organised Crime office of the National Prosecuting Authority made these substantial convictions possible.
Ikoma pleaded guilty to three charges involving the collection, possession and transport of 48 Armadillo girdled lizards (Ouroborous cataphractus).
He was arrested on November24 last year after attempting to evade a roadblock outside Bitterfontein.
The CapeNature Conservation Services, Biodiversity Crime Unit and the police Stock Theft Unit Malmesbury office attended the scene and conducted the investigation.
During the pursuit, Ikoma threw a cooler bag out of his car’s window.
The police were surprised to find 48 Armadillo girdled lizards in the cooler bag.
Another Japanese man, Takashi Handa, pleaded guilty on May22 to charges regarding the collection and possession of Armadillo girdled lizards without permits, and was sentenced to a R300000 fine or six years’ imprisonment.
He was arrested on December29 last year near Nuwerus while he was collecting the lizards in the veld.
Five were found in his possession
CapeNature staff and the Malmesbury police Stock Theft Unit again attended the scene and investigated the case.
Lutzville police arrested German nationals Leo Träger and Holger Pelz on March7 while they were in possession of several indigenous lizards.
Both pleaded guilty to charges regarding the the collection and transport of 21 Armadillo girdled lizards, two Karoo girdled lizards (Karusasaurus polyzonus) and three Peers Nama lizards (Namazonurus peersi) and for the collection of these lizards without the landowners’ written permission.
They were each sentenced to R250000 or two years’ jail.
CapeNature’s chief executive, Dr Razeena Omar, said: “CapeNature welcomes the sentences handed down by the Bellville Regional Court. 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.
"This once again demonstrates the kind of results that can be achieved when law enforcement agencies work together.”
He said successes like this could be achieved when law enforcement agencies co-operate to ensure successful prosecutions.