Help put an end to the smuggling of chameleons and tortoises
Flap-necked chameleon in the NZG's Reptile Park. (Photo: Michael Adams)
Resist the temptation to "rescue" a tortoise you see crossing the road during the holidays and bringing it back home with you to Gauteng.
Tortoises are not the easiest animals to care for. It is not enough to allow a tortoise to wander around your garden eating whatever it can find - these animals have specialised diets.
Illegally smuggled reptiles.
When was the last time you visited Sun City? Or is Pilanesberg National Park more your kind of holiday?
Whether you enjoy tanning in the sun at the Valley of the Waves or spending hours searching through the bush for that perfect animal sighting, anyone who has driven the R510 to these popular holiday destinations has at some point most likely seen hawkers at traffic junctions selling tortoises and chameleons.
The most popular spot for the hawkers seems to be the intersections of the R510 and R556, but there are other areas along the route to Sun City and Pilanesberg where this happens as well. In future, please take note of the exact location and report this to the conservation authorities whenever you see a hawker selling these animals.
There are a number of problems associated with this practice. Firstly, it is illegal to take these animals out of the wild without permission from the relevant nature conservation authorities in the form of a valid permit. It is also illegal to buy or sell these animals. In fact it is illegal to capture, buy or sell any indigenous reptiles in South Africa!
Plundering our natural heritage
Unfortunately it is often the case that people living below the poverty line are forced to make ends meet by any means they can. In this case it is by stealing ... from nature. Chameleons and tortoises have been stolen from the wild in many countries around the world. Reptiles are popular animals worldwide for smugglers and dealers in the illegal animal trade as they are able to survive for long periods with little or no food and water.
Currently in South Africa this trend is becoming increasingly prevalent. Villagers from the areas surrounding Sun City and Pilanesberg, for instance, are deliberately going out into the veld to search for these animals to capture and sell to passersby at various intersections.
However, this is by no means an isolated incident and happens in many parts of our country. The alarming rate at which this occurs is a great cause for concern. The captured reptiles are kept in the poorest of conditions, usually for weeks or even months, without basic necessities like food and water. They lie in their own faeces, cramped in overcrowded containers until any traveller with a bit of humanity feels so sad for these stressed animals that they pay for them just so that they can be released from their poor conditions. Many of these poached animals die before they are sold.
Money fuels the illegal trade
Sadly the exchange of money for these animals fuels the illegal trade. When people see an animal suffering they are often compelled to try and end its suffering. They think that if they pay these poachers for an animal they can take it home with them and look after it. Or better yet ... they can release it a few kilometres down the road.
So who is to blame here? The poachers? Yes indeed, stealing animals from the wild is illegal and there is no excuse for that! Remember ... without a market the trade will die.
What can you do to stop the illegal trade?
Please stop buying tortoises and chameleons at the side of the road. If you see this happening, phone the nature conservation authorities and report it to them. Releasing the animal back into the wild also has its problems. For instance, there is a reasonable chance that it will be re-discovered by poachers and end up being sold once more.
Holidaymakers are urged not to bring the tortoise or chameleon found crossing the road during their holiday in the Cape or South Coast back with them to Gauteng. These animals do not need "saving", so leave them in the bush where they belong!
Chameleons and tortoises are not the easiest animals to care for. It is not enough to simply keep a chameleon on a pot plant in your house or allow a tortoise to wander around your garden eating whatever it can find. There are so many things that can go wrong and which will ultimately lead to the slow, drawn out demise of your newly rescued pet.
In conclusion, please copy this article and forward it to all your friends. With a collective effort we all can make a difference!
By Chris Cooke
The National Zoological Gardens of
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the National Research Foundation