Saturday, May 31, 2008

Weltevrede Tortoises Killed

- Carol Campbell -

Undisciplined children killed two huge mountain tortoises in the Weltevrede Valley in a devastating display of human cruelty. The animals’ bodies were discovered by Pieter Koorts, of the Weltevrede Fig and Guest Farm, while on a routine check of the fig orchards at the end of April. “These tortoises were at least 50-years-old each,” he said, “that they should die like this is unforgivable.”

Mountain or leopard tortoises are the biggest of South Africa’s 12 species of land tortoise. Younger animals have brightly marked shells while the older creatures, like those killed, are uniformly brown. The name “mountain” tortoise is more to do with their size than where they live. Fully grown they usually average about 20kg but can be much bigger – the tortoises killed weighed an estimated 40kg.

Suzelle, Pieter’s wife, called Prince Albert police and the suspects, all under ten, were identified. The Weltevrede school bus was stopped by police and the children escorted to the scene of the crime with their parents. Under police supervision they were made to dig graves for the animals and, in the presence of several members of the Weltevrede community, prayed for forgiveness for what they had done. Suzelle praised the Prince Albert police for their sensitive but firm handling of the young culprits. “The policemen explained to the children the consequences of what they had done firmly but with respect for their age.” Willene, Pieter and Suzelle’s daughter, then made each child write a letter to the tortoise apologising for his or her brutality. “There were a lot of tears and a lot of regrets but we drove the message home very firmly,” said Suzelle.

The incident was reported to Cape Nature where Oudtshoorn-based conservation services manager Theresa van der Westhuizen said their names would be entered on the Biodiversity Crime Unit’s database. Environmental crimes entered on the database assist Cape Nature to strengthen its case against repeat offenders. “So often the public don’t report incidents like this because they think it’s a waste of time. This is not the case. If these names come to our attention again when they are older there will be serious consequences for them,” she said.

Suzelle said the Weltevrede children knew the farm rules: that no creature, no matter what, may be hurt or killed. Two of the children involved were in the valley visiting a neighbouring farm worker and live in town.

Cape Nature conservator Theresa van der Westhuizen has appealed to the Prince Albert community to be on the look out for children trading in wild animals. “This is a growing problem in Prince Albert with youngsters selling baby porcupines, meerkats and tortoises.” She said that under no circumstances were children to be paid for the animals but, where possible, they were to be removed and immediately brought to the authorities’ attention. Van der Westhuizen can be reached on:
082 569 6480 or 044 203 6315.

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