Undocumented immigrant jailed for trying to sell a live pangolin

The Mankweng regional court in Limpopo has convicted and sentenced Francis Shereni, 45, to a five-year jail term for possession of a live pangolin, an endangered species.

The Zimbabwean national was arrested in May 2021 at Church Street in Polokwane, attempting to sell a live pangolin. His accomplice ran away from the scene. The accused was convicted for possession of pangolin, cruelty to animal and contravening the Immigration Act. The latter charge means Shereni is not properly documented to be in the country.

He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The state revealed that the accused was found in possession of a live pangolin and that the endangered species was kept in a steel cabinet. The animal was found with injuries caused by sharp edges inside the cabinet. It was also dehydrated.

In aggravation of sentence, Adv Steven Muavha argued that the offence is very prevalent in the province. He submitted that the court should impose a sentence which would be a deterrent to potential offenders. The state further argued that the constitution imposes a duty upon every citizen to protect the environment for future generations.

Endangered species

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) reported that Temminck’s ground pangolin, is South Africa’s only indigenous species. The animal is globally classified as vulnerable and closer to extinction. These gentle, elusive creatures are hard to study. However, research indicates that their numbers are declining, primarily due to illegal international trade.

Electric fences and habitat destruction are also threats to pangolins. The scale-bodied animals have historically served as bushmeat in some African countries. Some people believe in the power of its scales in traditional cultural practices.

The illegal hunting of pangolins is driven by an illegal international trade in the animals for their meat and scales. This is commonly destined for China and Vietnam, in the same vein as the illegal rhino horn trade. The illicit trade in pangolin meat, scales and body parts is driving this 80 million-year-old species to the brink of extinction.

Five year jail term

The court sentenced the accused to a five-year jail term for possession of pangolin, two years for cruelty to animals and two years for contravening the Immigration Act. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently. Direct imprisonment of five years was imposed in respect of count one.

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