Japanese construction worker Yusuke Imanishi has been jailed twice for flying off to distant lands to plunder and trade rare lizards and other reptiles.
Now he is back in jail for a third time after he was nabbed for a similar wildlife offence in South Africa – this time for the possession of six rare armadillo girdled lizards.
Imanishi will have plenty of time to ponder the error of his ways, after being sentenced to an effective six-year jail term by a Cape Town regional magistrate.
According to the plea and sentence agreement, transnational wildlife crime now ranks among the top five most common and lucrative global crimes – along with the illegal drug trade, illegal weapons smuggling and human trafficking.
“It is essential to recognize that environmental crime, unlike many other forms of crime, is a time critical issue. As our natural resources are finite, lack of action may have permanent consequences. It is often said with regard to species and ecosystems ‘once it’s gone it’s gone’ and ‘extinction is forever’,” the court was told by State advocate Aradhana Heeramun, the Director of Public Prosecutions for the Western Cape province.
Last year, Imanishi was nabbed in Indonesia with 46 rare pythons and nine lizards (both species which are protected globally in terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). For this crime, Imanishi was jailed for eight months.
But barely 20 days after his release, he was arrested at Perth Airport in Australia with 13 illegally collected Bobtail lizards in his luggage. For this crime, he was sentenced to five months jail and was released in August 2019.
Just two weeks later he flew to South Africa with 27-year-old accomplice Shintaro Okada, a petrol station attendant, and arrested in a remote part of the Western Cape with a boxful of rare Armadillo girdled lizards.
Imanishi, who pleaded guilty, agreed that the two previous short-term jail sentences had done little to influence his criminal behaviour.
Evidence before the court showed that several other foreign crooks had been caught for similar offences in the Western Cape over recent months.
They included another Japanese national, nabbed with 48 armadillo girdled lizards; another Japanese national for illegal possession of five of the same lizards and two German nationals arrested in March for possession of 26 girdled lizards.
Following the latest arrests, Imanishi’s accomplice was jailed for four years.
The provincial conservation agency, Cape Nature, applauded the court, police and nature conservation officers for bringing these culprits to book.
The court noted that Section 24 of South Africa’s constitution stipulates that everyone has the right to an environment that is protected for the benefit of future generations and that the country had a national and an international obligation to address wildlife trafficking.
For good measure, the court also ordered that both men be deported back to Japan after serving their sentences – and that if they ever returned to South Africa they would face immediate arrest.
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