In a ground-breaking decision, and for the first time on record in the Eastern Cape and possibly in South Africa as a whole, an Encephalartos cycad poacher has been sentenced to ten years of direct imprisonment by the Jansenville regional court.
The EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust), one of IUCN’s SOS grantees, would like to commend the National Prosecuting Authority, Advocate Coetzee, and the members of the South African Police Service who arrested the aforementioned poacher as well as three others. This is a truly outstanding conclusion to this case and will hopefully send a strong message to other would-be perpetrators that removing these threatened plants from the wild is definitely not worth it.
The case involved four poachers, arrested in 2014 for attempting to smuggle twelve Encephalartos lehmannii, the Karoo Cycad, into Johannesburg. The Karoo Cycad is listed as a protected species in the National list of Threatened or Protected Species, published on 23 February 2007 and has been globally assessed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The trial took place on 24 June 2015 in the Jansenville regional court and was presided by Magistrate Rene Esterhuize. Three of the poachers, Shadrack Matambo, Desmond Manodawafa and Alex Khoza were sentenced to five years of direct imprisonment. As for the fourth poacher, Sibusiso Khumalo was condemned to a lengthier jail time of ten years, due to his previous two convictions for cycad poaching. The vehicle used in the commission of the offences was also seized and forfeited to the State.
The SOS funded project carried out by EWT is active in awareness raising activities and enforcement training programmes specific to cycads, hosting various training interventions with law enforcement officials from mixed enforcement agencies including the South African Police Service. All activities have had an important impact on the protection of cycads in South Africa and led to this spectacular initial arrest.
In South Africa the greatest threat facing cycads is the poaching of plants from wild populations to supply both domestic and international markets. Current assessments carried out by the IUCN Red List reflect the following in respect of the Encephalartos cycad species in South Africa: three are Extinct in the wild, twelve are Critically Endangered, four are Endangered, nine are Vulnerable and seven are Near Threatened. Of the 67 known species of Encephalartos cycads endemic to the African continent, South Africa is home to 38 of them, 29 of which are endemic to the country, making South Africa an important hotspot for cycad diversity.
SOS – Save Our Species and EWT wholeheartedly support the work of all parties involved in bringing these poachers to justice and look forward to seeing more cases concluded similarly to this one in the future.