Pretoria – Two employees of Mystic Monkeys & Feathers Wildlife Park, north of Pretoria, were arrested on Friday following the poisoning to death and butchering of six lions in June last year.
Michael Mudzewire and Collen Janjika appeared briefly in the Bela Bela Magistrate’s Court yesterday. The case was postponed to February 20 for further investigation.
They are facing charges relating to the illegal hunting of protected species.
The police have been following up leads for months after the gruesome killing of the animals.
Mystic Monkeys owner Christa Saayman hailed Detective Sergeant Edwin Ramaoka from the Limpopo Endangered Species Unit for his swift work.
He managed to catch the alleged culprits within two weeks of being appointed to the case.
Four of the animals were butchered and decapitated and had some paws cut off.
Of the lions killed, two were white males, two were brown lions – a male and a female around the ages of 3 and 4 – and two were aged just 6 months.
A manhunt for the culprits was launched by the Limpopo police and private security company Hi-Risk Unit after the killings.
Saayman said they had always suspected that Mudzewire, who has a Mozambican passport, may have been involved. He disappeared after the killings and did not return to work at the sanctuary.
Bloody clothing, including shoes and a hat, were found at the scene. These allegedly belonged to Mudzewire.
Both men will remain behind bars until their next appearance. According to the police, the severed paws and heads were meant to be sold to the Asian market.
Saayman was devastated after the killings. She said she was woken up by the police early that morning. They told her there were suspicious people in the vicinity of her park. The police had chased the men, but they ran away.
“At that stage, I did not connect the incident with the lions. It was only when the worker in charge of feeding the lions shouted in shock at about 7 am that we realised what had happened. He discovered the remains of the butchered lions in their cage.”
Saayman said one could not imagine how gruesome the scene was.
“To see these beautiful animals so mutilated is a pitiful disgrace. Their bodies were still in the cages and there was blood on the fence. I had my workers burn the remains of the lions that afternoon.”
While the four adult lions had been mutilated, the two younger ones were intact.
It emerged that the suspects had thrown chickens heavily laced with poison over the electric fence.
“The police said they had never seen so much poison. I will have to burn the grass of the camp to try to get rid of it,” she said at the time.