A KwaZulu-Natal sangoma who hacked an endangered tortoise to pieces for muti purposes was this week given a two-year suspended sentence.
The sangoma, Sindisiwe Mkhize, 48, of Edendale, and her accomplices - Nhlanhla Ngcobo, 31, Siyabonga Dlamini, 23, Bongani Sibiya, 33, and Sthembiso Gumede, 32 - were arrested in June last year after they were found in possession of animal skins and parts.
They were arrested when police on patrol duty noticed a tortoise being hacked in a garden.
Further investigations had revealed that the tortoise was an endangered species from Seychelles and had been stolen from the Lion Park.
Mkhize was also ordered to do 150 hours of community service and was prevented from obtaining a wildlife permit for six months.
Ngcobo was sentenced to 12 months, suspended for five years, and 100 hours of community service.
Dlamini, Sibiya and Gumede were each sentenced to 12 months, suspended for five years.
Rod Potter, head of KwaZulu- Natal Wildlife Crime Working Group, said parts of several other endangered species such as lion, leopard and water leguaan were found and confiscated at Mkhize's house.
"These animals can be easily obtained but one needs to follow proper and legal channels," said Potter. "We understand that there are people who use them to make medication, but they should obtain them properly."
He said anyone found in possession of animal skins and parts without permission would be arrested.
"This does not mean we will be targeting traditional healers, but we will definitely use the law to save these animals," he said.
Sazi Mhlongo, chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Association of Traditional Healers, condemned the arrests, saying: "People are sick and dying out there and we use animal parts to heal them.
"But now it is going to be difficult if we are arrested for using these."
The court ordered that the community service sentences be carried out at the Ezemvelo Wildlife's programme of eradicating foreign plants.