R8 000 admission of guilt for hunting protected animal slated
The man who shot dead a leopard on a reserve outside Grahamstown in what was initially claimed to be self-defence, has paid an R8 000 admission of guilt fine for hunting the animal.
A probe into the killing of the leopard – which is a protected species under South African law – followed the shooting by Dale Venske on Burchell’s Private Game Reserve near Alicedale in January.
The leopard had attacked and mauled houndsman Zwelakhe Dyan during a vermin hunt and Venske claimed it had then charged him.
Earlier this year, researchers said the leopard was the largest ever recorded in the Eastern Cape.
The Environmental Affairs special investigations unit, known as the Green Scorpions, led the investigation, which saw Venske criminally charged in the Grahamstown Magistrate’s Court in October.
Venske paid the admission of guilt fine for hunting a leopard without a permit as opposed to the matter proceeding to court.
An additional charge of hunting with dogs – which carries a R2 000 fine – was withdrawn.
Leopard experts have described the fine as a disgrace.
Landmark Foundation director Dr Bool Smuts said the fine showed authorities were in cahoots with “ecological asset looters”.
“An R8 000 fine is a travesty of justice for the unlawful killing of an animal,” a furious Smuts said.
“We spend easily up to R100 000 with each rescue event [of a leopard]. This is outrageous.”
Smuts said his foundation had cases where criminal intent was admitted, but the Directorate of Public Prosecutions had opted not to prosecute.
“The time has come when the public needs to not only demand jail time for biological asset strippers, but also criminal liability for the authorities that, with impunity, continue to aid and abet this slaughter and looting,” he said.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Tsepo Ndwalaza confirmed that the fine was paid and the other charge withdrawn.
Due to the matter involving a firearm, the Firearm Control Act places the onus on the court to decide whether the police should investigate whether the accused is fit to possess a firearm.
Police are now waiting for the docket to be transferred to the Alicedale police station to establish if another probe into Venske’s fitness to have a firearm should be launched.
Hunting operator Barry Burchell had said after the shooting that they were innocent and would fight the matter in court.
He said yesterday the fine had been paid on the advice of his lawyer, Theuns Roelofse.
“I was under the impression the fine was for shooting the leopard, which we never disputed,” Burchell said.
“He [Venske] had no other choice, so yes, he did shoot it.”
Asked about the charge which stated that he had hunted the leopard, Burchell said he never saw the paperwork. He said the fine was paid by their hunting company, Frontiers Safaris.
At the time of the attack, Dyan told how hunting dogs had circled bushes and, when he investigated, he was confronted by a leopard.
The leopard then allegedly charged Dyan, who suffered a broken shoulder and cuts, before being scared off.
It was claimed that the leopard then charged Venske, who shot it.
However, investigators believed the men had attempted to hunt the leopard.
At the time, Burchell denied knowledge of a leopard on his property and claimed the dogs were part of a vermin pack registered with Nature Conservation.
But days later, he admitted knowing that there might be a leopard on his farm.
According to officials, the cellphones of those involved in the incident were confiscated.
Authorities believe the messages and voice notes show Venske intended to hunt the leopard – contradicting the original version of events.
Shortly after the leopard was shot, the carcass was taken to a taxidermist where it was going to be skinned and mounted.
Investigators, however, confiscated the skin and remains.
Analysis of the skeletal remains suggested the animal had been shot in the side of the head.
Venske had claimed he shot the leopard while it was charging him.
Police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender said a probe into whether Venske was fit to possess a firearm would only be decided on once the case was returned to police by Environmental Affairs.