Our Burning Planet

ANIMAL CRUELTY CASE

Uniondale farmer charged after allegedly leaving trapped leopard to die of thirst

Uniondale farmer charged after allegedly leaving trapped leopard to die of thirst
A leopard trapped in a cage at a Uniondale farm in 2020. (Photo: Supplied)

André Barnard, a farmer from the Toorwater area in the Little Karoo, has been charged after he allegedly left a trapped and caged leopard to die of dehydration.

André Barnard, a farmer from Toorwater, just north of Uniondale in the Western Cape, will appear in the Uniondale Regional Court on 15 September for allegedly killing a leopard.

Barnard has been charged with two counts of violating the Nature and Environment Conservation Ordinance. He also faces three charges under the Animal Protection Act after allegedly leaving a trapped leopard to die in a cage.

According to National Prosecuting Authority Western Cape spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila, the charge sheet will be finalised once the regional court prosecutor has finished consulting and before the accused is asked to plead.

The Landmark Foundation’s Dr Bool Smuts said the case had been dragging on since March this year.

Smuts said that around August 2020, “the leopard was allegedly illegally captured in a cage trap (fall-door box trap) without the requisite permits.

“Knowing that it was captured, Bernard allegedly wished it dead but did not want to shoot it, nor would he call CapeNature or Landmark Foundation for assistance. Instead, he left it to die of dehydration in the cage.”

‘Cruellest death’

Smuts said it wasn’t known how long the leopard was left to suffer before it died.

“Thirst is the only urge a mammal cannot resist. Dying of dehydration, by deprivation of water, is the cruellest death any animal can be subjected to. The Landmark Foundation has agitated since March to get the NPA to fully prosecute the alleged crimes,” Smuts said.

He said initially the charges included only the illegal capture and killing of the leopard without due permits in terms of the 1974 Provincial Ordinance, and disregarded the ethics or cruel method with which the animal was allegedly intentionally killed.

“With our agitation, charges were added in respect of the Animal Protection Act. However, attempts by the accused and the NPA to get a plea deal agreement intervened. The Landmark Foundation asked for a watching brief in court and the right to address the Magistrates’ Court’s presiding officer in aggravation of sentencing,” said Smuts.

Smuts said they demanded that all the transgressions in law (the Conservation Ordinance and the Animal Protection Act) should have been prosecuted and charges filed accordingly.


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Criminal justice system ‘shocking’

“We also believe that the farmworkers and Barnard’s son, who were allegedly involved in and/or had knowledge of the leopard capture and the circumstances of it being left to die in the cage, be charged as accomplices.”

Smuts said what was equally shocking is the attitude of the criminal justice system in its prosecution of the matter.

“The accused has been before court on at least six occasions where we have attended. He has still not been asked to plead. From one magistrate opining about the plight of farmers and how terrible leopards are — and the state not compensating farmers (even before the accused has pleaded) — to the brazen arrogance of the NPA in this matter, there seems little prospect of justice being served,” he said.

Smuts said they believed an appropriate sentence should be imposed on all parties found guilty.

“We have succeeded in elevating the matter from the District to the Regional Magistrates’ Court. The initial plea deal presented by the accused has been rejected,” he said.

Lack of interest in prosecutions

Smuts said the tragedy of errors in the State’s case continues, and is now laced by “arrogance” from senior NPA staff trying to cover up the incompetence, lack of interest in the killing of a protected species and the cruelty involved.

“This is not the first instance — in fact, it’s the fifth example in our experience — of disinterest with respect to prosecutions involving the death of leopards at the hands of landowners. With such disinterest and lack of prosecutorial rigour, these animals have little hope,” he said.

Smuts said there were reasonable alternatives available to the farmer that could have spared the leopard from a barbaric and cruel death — from potentially translocating the animal, to collaring and releasing it back on site as part of a compensation scheme to the farmer. Instead, the farmer allegedly chose to leave the caged leopard to die of dehydration.

Ntabazalila said “the matter was postponed to 15 September 2022 to afford the new legal representative of the accused an opportunity to consult properly with his client. The state is ready to proceed with the case”.

He said every matter the NPA dealt with was taken seriously.

“We are committed in the prosecution of crime without fear, favour or prejudice. I cannot comment on the merits of the case further as the matter is still sub judice,” he said. DM/OBP

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