Two game farmers in court for lion bones

01 July 2011 - 02:02 By CHARL DU PLESSIS

South African game farmers have been approaching an overseas company, offering up lion bones for sale.

This was one of the facts that emerged yesterday when two Thai men pleaded guilty to being in possession of 59 lion bones without a permit.

The bones, which were primarily claws and parts of the paws, were found rolled up in plastic and hidden in a sock inside a piece of luggage at a house in Edenvale, east of Johannesburg.

The house was raided by SA Revenue Service officials and the police, after they questioned the accused at the OR Tambo International airport.

The men, Phichet Thongphai, 31, and Punpitak Chunchom, 44, were yesterday sentenced in the Germiston Magistrate's Court to a fine of R10000 or six months' imprisonment.

A further R100000 fine or five years' imprisonment was suspended on condition that both men take pre-booked flights out of the country this Saturday.

Phichet Thongphai claims he works for a Laos-based company, "Vichai company", the "main business" of which is to trade in lion bones.

It is understood that this company's real name is Xaysavang Export Import.

Thongphai said he and the other accused "were sent to South Africa by the company to view and approve lion bones to be bought and shipped to the company in [Laos, Thailand]".

He further said that the "company for which I worked is usually contacted by farm owners in South Africa and advised that they have lion bones for sale".

Magistrate Hasani Mashimbye yesterday stressed how serious the crimes were: "Future generations of this country will not know what a lion is by the acts of people coming from outside the Republic."