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South Africans are very quick to blame Asian buyers for the flourishing trade in rhino horns and elephant tusks, but demand for illegal wildlife products is equally strong back home. A video, released to Traveller24, reveals the sickening reality that all types of wild animals – many of them endangered – are sought after in the domestic market. The heart-wrenching exposé by an undercover “shopper” shows rows and rows of skins of leopards, cheetah, lion and other animals. Also spotted at the market, a popular source of traditional “medicine”, were chimp hands, pangolin and other animal parts. While the activities at the market will send a chill down the spines of environmentalists, the fact that this wildlife shoppers’ paradise is public and accessible raises questions as to how it is that South Africa’s conservationists and policing agencies haven’t taken action. The responses from various animal rights organisations and environmental agencies is generally pathetic, indicating at best lethargy and incompetence, when it comes to securing one of South Africa’s most precious natural resources. If we keep raiding the larder, the country will soon look like most of the rest of the world – where rare beasts have been wiped out, leaving only a few examples of species at zoos and on display in dusty museums. – Jackie Cameron
By Selene Brophy
Cape Town – This 5-minute raw footage taken at the Faraday Muthi market, in Selby, Johannesburg shows skins and animal parts of endangered species from cheetah, leopard, lion, chimp hands, hyena, pangolin, vulture.
This while just down the road in Sandton, more than 3 500 delegates from 183 member state countries attended the 17th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora kicks – one of the most important wildlife conferences focused on the protection and monitoring of trade in wildlife.
Yet at this Joburg market, a rather well-known muthi market in fact, the video clearly shows rampant trade in illegal wildlife products, most of which have very specific restrictions attached to trade, if any is even allowed.
The person who took the video and shared it with Blood Lions wishes to remain anonymous, but confirmed the video’s authenticity to Traveller24 and that it was taken this week, saying it was “alarming to see so many leopard skins available”.
In January this year the Department of Environmental Affairs set provincial leopard trophy hunting quotas at zero for 2016, effectively banning leopard trophy hunting throughout South Africa for a year.
This calls into question the origin of these products, which include Pangolin skin, just moved up to CITES Appendix I as critically endangered. Other illegal products include lion skins and bone as well as endangered vulture species.
Traveller24 spoke to Green Scorpions Environmental Management Inspector for Complaints Andrew Mbhalati who is acting head for Green Scorpions head Lawrence Badenhorst at the moment, but he could not confirm if the market was being investigated.
Mbhalati says he would only be able to follow-up on the matter on Monday, when the necessary official Eric Mbela who deals with Biodiversity issues was back in the office.
Ilegal wildlife products: ‘We rely on the public to lodge a complaint’
“We rely on the public to lodge a complaint, where after the issues are then registered and we send the inspectors to investigate further.” He could not confirm that the division actively investigates or patrols well-known markets such as Faraday.
But given that the film was shot on Monday afternoon, it does not appear as if this particular one is being actively monitored.
Ian Michler, the investigative conservationist behind the documentary Blood Lions who has seen the video told Traveller24 that while no official complaint has been laid, Blood Lions would definitely be collecting a full body of information in order to do so.
Michler says: “The striking irony of this is that a mere 15km from where the world has been holding the most important conference on the trade of endangered species is that these products are being traded in a market.
“The video shows everything from lion and vultures and crocodiles and primate hands.”
‘Greatest irony and sadness in actual fact’
Michler says that while it is all good and well for the stakeholders to hold intellectual discussions on the endangered species, it highlights how little is actually being done on the ground and exactly why these species are in trouble.
“It is one thing to accord them protection in writing but it is another to enforce those laws entirely which CITES needs to be aware of,” says Michler.
“It is the greatest irony and sadness in actual fact,” says Michler.
When told that the Green Scorpions rely largely on investigating complaints made by the public or organisations who witness the illegal trader, Michler says,
“This is an indictment on local and national government, the fact that a country of South Africa’s stature when it comes to wildlife cannot get a rudimentary protection force together to carry out their mandate.”
Michler says, “At least give them the capabilities to patrol markets in the heart of the city – because this is what it boils down to, we are not talking about markets that are in the middle of nowhere. These are visible to everyone. It is extremely sad and a very concerning situation – that they don’t have the resources to carry out the most basic regulatory mandate.”
Michler says Blood Lions would be looking at other areas in the CBD as well as try to ascertain who the suppliers to these markets area as part of its official complaint.
NSPCA Wildlife aware of the muthi market
National Council of SPCA spokesperson Isobel Wentzel told Traveller24 that while they are aware of the market it falls out of their domain.
“We don’t have proof on how the animals are killed, it would be about the manner in how they were killed or proof of cruelty. The fact is we don’t know if they were alive when the parts were chopped off.”
However Wentzel says, “Market traders need to be in possession of a wildlife trader permit, which must be regulated as it is issued subject to specific quotas. They need permits even if it’s for traditional medicine.”
Wentzel agreed that all known muthi market across the various provinces need to be checked on, especially to establish proof of origin.
CITES regulates international and not domestic trade
“Conservation enforcement departments have to check if these guys have been issued permits. But its clear some of the species they can’t get permits to trade in”, which is the key issue here according to Wentzel.
While CITES regulates international and not domestic trade, Wentzel says these traders are still accountable as it is illegal to take animals such as pangolin out of the wild, let alone sell them.
“You cannot take animals out of the wild; it must be legally bred in captivity in order to trade some of them.”
Wentzel also suggests that it is unlikely these parts came from animals that died of natural causes.
“If animals die of natural causes a permit needs to be obtained just to keep the horn of rhino for example. Leopard or cheetah skins cannot leave that property unless they have a registered wildlife permit. Curios all have permits for their wildlife items.
“Even if they call it traditional medicine or muthi markets they are not exempted from the law.”- Traveller24
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