A farmworker dries dyed boa feathers at an ostrich farm outside Oudtshoorn. Photo: REUTERS

Cape Town - Five people accused of stripping feathers off live ostriches appeared in the Oudtshoorn Magistrate's Court on Wednesday, Western Cape police said.

Captain Malcolm Pojie said Andre Prinsloo, 21, Jakobus November, 28, Karel Jansen, 35, Jonas Jansen, 25, and Dawid Piedt, 31, would be back in court on April 19. They remained in custody.

They were arrested in Oudtshoorn on Monday morning in connection with five cases of alleged theft of ostrich feathers, worth R117 000, since December, said Pojie.

Two of them faced additional charges of theft for possession of stolen chainsaws and a drill.

“The ostrich industry has suffered substantial damage due to the stripping of ostrich feathers and we therefore hope the arrests are a deterrent to potential poachers,” Pojie said.

The police would oppose any applications for bail by the five.

The Cape Argus reported on Tuesday that the Western Cape government's research farm in Oudtshoorn was one of the main targets for feather poachers.

Researcher Stefan Engelbrecht said feather thieves first struck about a month ago, and then again recently. About 70 birds were plucked and four were bludgeoned to death.

To date, 50 percent of ostrich farmers had reportedly left the industry because of an export ban imposed after an outbreak of bird flu in 2011 and subsequent job losses.

A new outbreak of avian flu detected on an Oudtshoorn farm on Tuesday was the latest threat to the industry. - Sapa