Soldiers confiscate illicit cigarettes and wildlife on border patrol duty

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South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers protecting South Africa’s borders as part of Operation Corona confiscated more illicit cigarettes and, unusually, wildlife over the past weekend.

At the Beitbridge port of entry, 40 master boxes and 82 cartons of cigarettes were confiscated, with an estimated value of R584 481, the SANDF said. Joint operations with the SA Police Service at Beitbridge also confiscated 230 packets of contraceptives valued at R36 300.

Unusually, the operation also saw the confiscation of 1 100 Emperor scorpions, 42 Natal Hinge-back tortoises and a Nile monitor. The animals were packed tightly in plastic jerry cans with small holes and their collective value is R810 318.

The illegal wildlife trade in South Africa has established networks linked to Asian countries. Aside from being illegally bought as pets, scorpions are being used for medical purposes, being smoked in India and some surrounding countries, and eaten in China. Natal Hinge-back tortoises are considered a rare and vulnerable species, listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Appendix II.

Operation Corona successes continued later in the week and yesterday (18 May), soldiers also confiscated a Nissan Navara bakkie in the Dongola Kop area, close to the Limpopo border. The bakkie was transporting illicit cigarettes to the amount of R420 647. The SANDF said the confiscated Navara is worth R160 000.

There are 15 companies, mostly infantry from both the Regular and Reserve Force, patrolling South Africa’s borders. In the first three months of the year, soldiers confiscated contraband, narcotics, recovered stolen vehicles and handed 12 500 illegal immigrants to police and immigration authorities for further processing. The majority of contraband, conservatively valued at R31 million, was taken from smugglers attempting to illegally enter South Africa from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Narcotics worth over R21 million was confiscated in the first quarter of 2021.