Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rare tortoise presumably sold for muti

Rare tortoise presumably sold for muti


Pietermaritzburg, South Africa 




26 June 2006 04:13


Six months after being convicted of the theft of a lion cub, a Cato Ridge man was charged in Pietermaritzburg on Monday with stealing an endangered 75-year-old giant Seychelles tortoise from the same complainant, the Natal Lion Park Zoo.


The zoo is near Cato Ridge, between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.


The accused, Nhlakanipho Eugene Ngcobo (29), was on Monday refused bail by Pietermaritzburg magistrate Brad Osborne, who said that it was clear that Ngcobo had some involvement in the theft or possession of the tortoise.


Ngcobo said during his bail application he had sold the tortoise but would plead not guilty to its theft. An alternative to the theft charge is possession of, or dealing in, or handling specially protected game reasonably suspected to have been unlawfully hunted or acquired.


Two of his co-accused were granted bail of R2 000 each on June 22 and a third was released on warning.


Two sangomas who allegedly bought the tortoise -- presumably to use as muti -- were granted bail of R2 000 each after being charged with dealing in or handling parts of an endangered tortoise.


Osborne said that one of the sangomas and some of Ngcobo's co-accused had agreed to testify that he was the main perpetrator of the theft of the tortoise. It weighed more than 100kg, was worth R35 000 and was carrying many eggs.


The sangomas, Sindisiwe Mkhize (47) and Bonisiwe Mhlongo (39), were arrested after putrid, maggot-infested, stinking tortoise viscera and eggs were found hanging from a tree in Imbali, Pietermaritzburg. Lion and leopard skins had also been found at the site. They appeared in court in colourful sangoma regalia.


The owner of the lion park, Brian Boswell, believed the tortoise was killed at the park. Blood had been found in the area.


Ngcobo told the court that he had previously worked at the lion park but had been fired for the theft of the lion cub. He was fined R1 000 (plus 30 days in jail suspended) in December 2005 by the Camperdown Magistrate's Court.


According to police, poaching has increased recently because there is a huge illegal trade in endangered species parts for the muti trade and game areas. Recently police seized ivory, rhino horn and several lion, leopard and antelope hides.


The Seychelles giant tortoise, once thought to be extinct, is a critically endangered species that can live to more than 100 years. In the Seychelles it is only bred in captivity. They grow so large and strong that children ride on them.


The case resumes on July 25. -- Sapa




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