Two wildlife traffickers arrested in joint operation by SAPS and Wildlife Justice Commission in South Africa

Two wildlife traffickers arrested in joint operation by SAPS and Wildlife Justice Commission in South Africa

In a significant blow to global wildlife trafficking, the South African Police Service (SAPS), acting on intelligence from the Wildlife Justice Commission, has arrested Vietnamese wildlife trafficker Nguyen Huu Tao and his associate, Nico Scoltz, on 5 July 2024The two men were apprehended for allegedly attempting to illegally sell lions.

During a joint operation by SAPS and the Wildlife Justice Commission, Nguyen offered to sell six lions to undercover operatives and introduced his associate Scoltz, who took them to a farm in Free State where the lions were kept. Following the transaction, SAPS, in collaboration with other law enforcement units, arrested the two suspects in North West province and seized their vehicle, a firearm and 50 rounds of ammunition.

Nguyen and Scoltz have been charged with contravention of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004, conspiracy to commit an offense, and unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition. The two suspects have been remanded in custody pending their first appearance in court.

“I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to SAPS on this significant arrest and my appreciation for their cooperation with the Wildlife Justice Commission. It is an important result as South Africa moves towards closing down commercial lion farms and taking action against criminal activities connected to these facilities,” said Olivia Swaak-Goldman, Executive Director of the Wildlife Justice Commission.

Lions are currently listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In some parts of Africa, especially in West Africa, lions are declining at a rate that qualifies them as “Endangered.”

South Africa is home to the world’s largest captive lion population, estimated to be around 8,000 individuals. In a promising decision for lions earlier this year, the South African government approved a policy position to close captive lion facilities and end commercial exploitation of lions and “canned” hunts.

A Roadmap to Closing Captive Tiger Facilities of Concern was developed in 2023 by a group of non-governmental organisations with expertise in wildlife conservation, animal welfare, illegal wildlife trade, and captive wildlife care and management, including the Wildlife Justice Commission. The recommendations in this Roadmap are also applicable to captive lion facilities and can guide the phasing out of such facilities in South Africa.