CapeNature has welcomed the sentence handed down to two foreign nationals found guilty of contravening the Western Cape Nature Conservation Ordinance, no. 19 of 1974, by being illegally in possession of 2,248 plants, which they collected without the necessary permits or documentation.
The husband and wife team, Jose Maria Aurell Cardona and Maria Jose Gonzalez Puigcarbo, both Spanish citizens, entered into a plea bargain agreement and were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, which was suspended for five years, and ordered to leave the country and never return – after being found guilty of illegally picking and being in possession of flora in the Vredendal Regional Court.
CapeNature CEO, Dr Razeena Omar, says: “We welcome this sentence and congratulate all the parties involved for their work in protecting the biodiversity of the Western Cape. The success of the teams delivers a major blow against biodiversity criminals who are illegally collecting flora and transporting it out of the province.”
Paul Gildenhuys, the head of CapeNature’s biodiversity crime unit, stated: “This sentence is the highest sentence ever handed down for flora in the Western Cape and it sends a clear message that we will deal harshly with those people who wish to exploit the unique flora and fauna of the Western Cape Province.” He emphasised that this sentence was only achieved as a result of a team effort between departments.
Mr. Gildenhuys singled out the VanRhynsdorp SAPS Detective Branch, the Cape Town Organised Crime Unit and the Organised Crime Office of the Western Cape Directorate of Public Prosecutions for their sterling assistance in the investigation and prosecution. Gildenhuys says: “This is a prime example of the successes one can achieve when law enforcement agencies work together to ensure a successful prosecution.”
On 14 July 2015, the pair were caught by CapeNature officials near the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve with succulents in their possession without the necessary permits allowing them to be in possession of the flora.
After further investigation, CapeNature Biodiversity Crime Unit and the South African Police Services (SAPS) discovered 14 boxes containing more plants at the guest cottage where Cardona and Gonzalez were staying.
In total Mr. Cardona and Ms. Gonzalez were found in possession of 2,248 plants, which they collected throughout the Northern Cape, Southern Namibia and the northern parts of the Western Cape. Documentation found in their possession indicated that they planned to travel further through the Western Cape, collecting as they travelled.
Amongst the plants identified by botanists of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) were an endangered Aloe pillansii, or Baster-kokerboom, as well as various species that are listed in various threat categories on the Red List of South African Plants. Of particular concern was the fact that Cardona and Gonzalez were found to have collected various species in various protected areas, including a succulent that is found only in the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve.
Cardona and Gonzalez were also linked to a website hosted in Spain that offered a wide range of succulent plants for sale, including South African species.
The pair initially appeared in the VanRhynsdorp magistrate’s court before being handed their sentence in the Vredendal Regional Court.