Leopard skin haul case is delayed yet again

By Tony Carnie Time of article published Aug 14, 2009

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A Jozini man linked to the slaughter of at least 150 leopards has appeared in court charged with possession of the single biggest haul of skins from a specially protected cat species in KwaZulu-Natal.

The latest census by the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife conservation authority estimates that there are less than 500 wild leopards left in KZN, suggesting that skins allegedly confiscated at the home of Mlungu Mxegeni Ngubane are equivalent to roughly 30 percent of the province's remaining leopard population.

Ngubane, 61, has been charged with the hunting or illegal possession of 92 leopards, whose skins were allegedly found at his home in the Mamfene district, outside Jozini, on August 15, 2008.

Ngubane had just completed a brief stint of community service and parole after being convicted of the possession of a further 58 leopard skins, seized at his home in July 2004. He did not go to jail after the first conviction and was sentenced instead to a wholly suspended jail sentence and community service, which included giving talks to local communities about his previous poaching activities.

His trial was due to begin last month, but was delayed after his legal representative apparently fell ill.

Ngubane appeared in the Richards Bay Regional Court for trial on Tuesday, but it was postponed again after he produced a sick note from a doctor. He was due to appear in court again yesterday, but his attorney handed in a new doctor's note, which suggests that Ngubane is suffering from dysentery, and the trial has now been put off until later in the month. The case, to be prosecuted by advocate Yuri Gangai, also involves several other wildlife-related charges for alleged hunting or the illegal possession of other protected animals.

According to court documents, an investigating team led by Inspector JP Roux found more than 150 leopard claws and several pieces of leopard jaw with teeth intact, along with numerous pieces of leopard skin and tails which had been cured and fashioned into a variety of shapes.

There were also more than 100 other spotted-cat species such as genet and serval, along with 29 samango monkey tails, a bushbaby, 10 suni antelope, several water mongoose and a wildebeest tail.

The case is expected to spark renewed debate about the need for stricter conservation measures for leopards, whose skins are highly prized for traditional regalia by members of the Zulu nobility and the Shembe church.

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