ABERDEEN, South Dakota, October 30, 2009 (ENS) – A leopard shot seven years ago in South Africa caught up with a South Dakota man in an Aberdeen courtroom today.
A federal jury in Aberdeen found Wayne Breitag guilty of smuggling the skin of a leopard into the United States in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a treaty to which the United States and 174 other countries are Parties.
Breitag was also found guilty of violating the Lacey Act, a U.S. federal wildlife statute.
Breitag faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine for smuggling, while the Lacey Act violations are punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Leopard in South Africa (Photo by Linda Gaulke)
According to a grand jury indictment issued in August, Breitag traveled to South Africa in August 2002 to hunt leopards while guided by a South African outfitter named Jan Groenewald Swart doing business as Trophy Hunting Safaris.
Breitag shot and killed a leopard at that time.
Swart arranged to have the hides smuggled from South Africa into Zimbabwe, where he purchased a fraudulent CITES export permit for the leopard hide.
Breitag then submitted an application to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service falsely claiming that he hunted and killed the leopard in Zimbabwe.
On November 5, 2004, Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors seized a shipment of five leopard hides and three leopard skulls at the Denver International Airport, which included the hide of the leopard that Breitag killed illegally in South Africa in 2002.
On May 21, 2007, Swart pleaded guilty to smuggling charges in federal district court in Colorado for his role in the illegal hunts. Swart served an 18-month long prison sentence; he has since been released and deported.
Leopards, Panthera pardus, are listed on CITES Appendix I, which prohibits all international commercial trade in live animals or their parts, with exceptions for scientific research and a quota system for certain African countries
Legal international traffic in leopard parts is limited to exports of skins and hunting trophies under a CITES Appendix I quota system by 13 African countries.
The CITES authorities in South Africa set a yearly quota on the number of export permits issued by that country for leopards. These permits are issued only for leopards that have been killed with a valid hunting permit.
The authoritative Red List of Threatened Species compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, classifies the leopard as Near Threatened.
Leopards have a wide range and are locally common in some parts of Africa and tropical Asia. Still, the IUCN says the species is declining in large parts of its range due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and hunting for trade and pest control.
Scientists estimate that leopards have disappeared from at least 36 percent of their historical range in Africa. The most marked range loss has been in the Sahel belt, as well as in Nigeria and South Africa.
The IUCN says, “The impact of trophy hunting on [leopard] populations is unclear, but may have impacts at the demographic and population level, especially when females are shot.”