It was a pretty crazy day with a 500 kilometre trip planned from Limpopo to Johannesburg. On route we have lost of time to ponder over the events of the past week or so. For some time we have worked tirelessly to infiltrate a leopard smuggling network. There are many evil people in this world but to us the worst of the worst are those that take endangered species from the wild illegally to set these poor animals up to be killed by trophy hunters. For some time we have known that a certain group was putting out trap cages on various private farms in Limpopo Province to catch leopards. Once the leopard was caught in a trap cage they would make contact with a number of local agents who in return contacted a certain woman who acted as the go-between. She in return would set up a deal between the landowner and the trophy hunting outfitter. We will tell you more about this shortly.
However, during our investigations and while we positioned ourselves as a supposed trophy hunting outfitter we were contacted by this particular woman to find out if any of our “clients” would be interested in purchasing a brown hyena for a trophy hunt. She told us that the animal had been hit by a car, but was not seriously injured. It had received veterinary care and indeed was fit and healthy to be hunted! How sick and warped could a human mind be?
We had arranged the previous day to meet her at a hotel just outside Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport as she was driving down from Northwest Province to collect hunting clients at the airport later today. She informed us that she would be bringing the brown hyena in a crate and that we could meet to buy the animal and do a deal. We arrived in Johannesburg shortly after 18h00 and arranged to meet with her (and a friend) behind the hotel in the private parking.
Nothing could prepare us for the terrible sight that greeted us when she opened a small trailer she pulled behind her Prado. The stench of rotten flesh was overwhelming and we immediately knew that whatever was inside the small steel crate was in serious trouble. We could not at this stage alert her that we were concerned and we continued to share jokes and laugh while handing over the money to buy the brown hyena. We did however come prepared with our own “friends” accompanying us. What she did now know was that we were accompanied by an investigative film crew filming for an international production company to expose the illegal wildlife trade in endangered species and our “friends” were filming with entire conversation and deal with hidden cameras.
Although this was an illegal deal we are acting with the permission of the nature conservation authorities that worked closely with us on the illegal trade in leopards. A decision was made prior to our arrival in Johannesburg that she would not be arrested yet as we needed to find the proof of her involvement in the illegal trading and capturing of leopards.
We could not leave quickly enough and on route back to Pretoria and Limpopo Province we called a local rehabilitation friend to find out where we could take the unfortunate animal for immediate veterinary care. We knew it was alive but this is all we knew about the poor animal at the time but the stench coming from the steel crate was that of rotten flesh. She arranged for us to meet a vet at the Pretoria Zoo. It was already dark when we arrived.
Inside the veterinary clinic we moved quickly to sedate the hyena and get it out of the steel crate. A chain was tied to its next and only once we have it on the operating table the full extent of its injuries was revealed. It had been caught by its toes in a gin-trap and its toes was partially severed and badly infected. We do not know when the chain was placed around its neck, but there were raw open wounds around the neck indicating it must have been at least a couple of days. The bruising indicated that the animal fought desperately to get rid of the chain and in addition to the bruising its teeth was badly damaged as well; probably breaking as it chewed on the chain to escape. The inside of its thighs were covered in excrement and urine; to the extent that it had badly burnt the skin. The vet was of the opinion that this poor hyena had been placed into the steel crate and had remained there for at least 2-3 days. The crate was so small that barely a middle size dog could fit into it. The hyena could not move at all as there was simply no space so it was forced to urinate and defecate in the position it was forced into. Had it been fed or watered while it in the crate? No it was highly unlikely!
The vet worked as quickly as he could because the animal was so weak that even the mild sedation was a major problem. He decided to not operate at this stage to remove the severed toes, but to give the animal antibiotics and time to get a bit stronger first.
After being cleaned and put on an intravenous drip Nelson (we named him after President Nelson Mandela) came to. He was very weak and we agreed to leave him at the veterinary clinic for now and would check in with the vet on a daily basis to find out how he was doing.