Three men have been arrested for the illegal possession and sale of elephant ivory in Midrand.
“The arrest of these suspects and the recovery of an elephant tusk during a joint operation by the Green Scorpions from the Department of Environmental Affairs and South African National Parks (SANParks), the Hawks and the police’s K9 unit, is a shining example of the collaborative effort to combat wildlife crime in South Africa,” Department of Environmental Affairs spokesman Albi Modise said.
The men were expected to appear in the Wynberg Magistrates Court on Friday.
They were arrested on Wednesday following a tip-off to a member of the Department’s Environmental Management Inspectorate, known as the Green Scorpions.
Law enforcement officials confiscated two vehicles and an elephant tusk during the arrest.
The illegal trade of ivory is a criminal offence in terms of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years or a fine of R10 million.
In a separate incident, Jan Adriaan van Vuuren was sentenced to a fine of R200 000 or three years imprisonment, half of which was suspended for five years, for the illegal possession of 35 cycads. Sentencing happened in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court.
Van Vuuren was arrested on 14 December 2016 at his house in the East of Pretoria, La Montagne area, during a joint operation by the Hawks in Limpopo and the Environmental Management Inspectorate (Green Scorpions) of the Department of Environmental Affairs.
“Van Vuuren illegally bought threatened cycads from an undercover Police agent on two occasions. The Green Scorpions also seized a further 35 cycads from his home,” the department said.
In terms of National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) proposed sentences for offences related to cycads are a fine equal to three times the commercial value of the plant or R10 million, whichever is greater, and/or a jail sentence not exceeding 10 years or both.
“The collaboration between the Hawks and the Department of Environmental Affairs in this investigation is to be commended. A lot of hard work went into this investigation and is an indication of the dedication of the officials tasked with ensuring our country’s natural heritage is protected,” Modise said.
He said the sentence sent a message to those trafficking cycads. Cycads is the most trafficked plant species in South Africa.