WASHINGTON —A federal jury in Aberdeen, S.D., has found a South Dakota man guilty for smuggling the hide of a leopard into the United States in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international treaty that regulates international shipments of listed species, to which the United States and 172 other countries are members. The leopard allegedly was hunted and killed in South Africa illegally. Wayne D. Breitag of Aberdeen, S.D., was also found guilty for violations of the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife statute.
Leopards (Panthera pardus) are listed on Appendix I of CITES. CITES requires that prior to the transport of any part of an Appendix I species from one country to another, an export permit from the country of origin (or a re-export certificate), and an import permit from the country to which the specimen will be shipped, must be obtained and accompany the shipment. The CITES authorities in South Africa set a yearly quota on the number of export permits issued by that country for Appendix I species, such as leopards. These permits are only issued for leopards which have been killed with a valid hunting permit.
According to the August grand jury indictment, 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 fraudulent CITES export permits for the leopard hide. Breitag then submitted applications to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) falsely claiming that he hunted and killed the leopard in Zimbabwe. On Nov. 5, 2004, USFWS 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.
Smuggling is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine, while the Lacey Act violations are punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
On May 21, 2007, Jan Groenewald Swart pleaded guilty to smuggling charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado for his role in the illegal hunts. Swart served an eighteen-month prison sentence, has since been released and deported.
The investigation of this case was lead by Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The case is being prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the District of South Dakota and Colorado.