A joint task force police operation pounced on an illegal Vietnamese lion and tiger bone syndicate operating in the North West at the weekend, after at least 40 lions were reportedly killed at a lion farm near Klerksdorp.
According to Hawks spokesperson Captain Tlangelani Rikhotso, six foreign nationals and two South African men were nabbed in the multi-disciplinary operation conducted by members of the Potchefstroom Crime Intelligence unit, the Hawks and the Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp flying squads units.
Police moved to arrest the suspects after keeping a close watch on activities at a farm near Hartbeesfontein, on the N12 between Klerksdorp and Wolmaransstad.
It's alleged at least 30 lions were killed at the farm on Saturday, while 10 more lions were killed on Friday.
The suspects were intercepted while driving in a convoy from the N12 farm to an unused farm in Mareetsane. After searching a white Toyota Hilux bakkie, a silver Toyota Lexus sport utility vehicle and a trailer officers recovered lion bones, lion meat, a tiger skin, gas cylinders, gas burners, containers, a saw, knives and other equipment believed to have been used to process the lion bones.
The suspects took the team to a farm approximately 30km from Klerksdorp where the lions were allegedly slaughtered. At the farm, a lion skin was found dumped in the bush and large machines – which are believed to have been used to cut the bones – were also found in the garage.
It's understood one of the South African suspects arrested is a 22-year-old who works at a notorious Vietnamese-owned hunting lodge that has been linked to the pseudo-hunting of rhinos and the smuggling of rhino horns, lion bones and tiger body parts .
The eight suspects, aged between 22 and 60, are expected to make their first court appearance in the Klerksdorp Magistrate's Court on Tuesday. They will face several charges, including illegal possession of game products without a permission and carrying out restricted activities involving a specimen of a listed, threatened or protected species.
The National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is also currently embroiled in a court battle that seeks to interdict the government's policy permitting the export of lion skeletons to Southeast Asia, where they are ground into dubious products disguised as cure-all tonics and potions.