Thursday, August 2, 2007

Chemical Crime

Chemical Crime
Written by Kotie Geldenhuys
Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Wildlife crime


South Africa has one of the world's highest rates of violent crime. Official statistics indicate that figures for some of the worst crimes such as murder are increasing, and although some of the other statistics have shown a decrease, these figures remain alarmingly high.

South Africans live behind high walls, with electric fences or razor wire and large dogs such as Rottweilers or even the small noise_makers, like Jack Russells, are used to protect home owners from becoming part of the statistics in South Africa.

Article compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
This form of protection feeds a vicious cycle as desperate criminals will go to increasingly brutal methods to commit their crime. They see the watchdog as an obstacle and therefore they want to eliminate it. This is the motive for poisoning dogs in most cases.
The poison of choice used by the majority of South African criminals is a pesticide called aldicarb (also known as "two_step"). Temik is the brand name for aldicarb which is a restricted use chemical under strict controls and management. Criminals steal small amounts of this chemical which they usually mix with maize, bread, meat or corned beef. In January this year, 14 dogs and two cats were poisoned and killed in apparent housebreaking attempts at six homes in East Lynn, Pretoria. The poison had been put into polony and fed to the animals in an attempt to gain entry to the houses. Many other attempted thefts, using this method have been reported.
But poisoning doesn't stop with the much_loved pets that are obstacles to criminals. Wild animals also fall victim to poisoning. Farmers often use pesticides to get rid of "problem animals", such as jackals. And once again the poisoning doesn't stop when the predator is killed. Many non_target animals are killed in the process and secondary poisoning then occurs when animals such as vultures, feed on the carcasses of poison victims.
Another group that also uses poison illegally, is poachers. In 2005 Carte Blanche and other media reported about poachers in the Limpopo Province who poisoned rhinos to get hold of their horns. In this case the poachers also made use of aldicarb.
The culprits stole approximately 500 g of aldicarb from a farm shed, and headed for the nature reserve where they poured the poison around the waterhole. Keeping in mind that aldicarb is extremely toxic, and that only a few grams are needed to kill a rhino, this 500 g was a lot of poison that ended up in the drinking water of innocent animals. According to the poacher who talked to the reporter, a bird drank some of the water after they had poured the aldicarb into the waterhole and died immediately.
Early the next morning the poachers returned to the waterhole and found a scene of slaughter as more than 50 animals were lying dead around the watering hole. Dozens of birds and baboons had died alongside large game such as nyalas, wildebeest and zebras. Five white rhinos had been killed by the poisoned water.
The poachers only removed the two horns of one rhino and fled with the two horns, as they were afraid of being discovered. Predators and scavengers that fed on the carcasses also died. It was a horrific scene and officials of the Department of Nature Conservation and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) feared that it could become a trend.
Other poisons which have been implicated in animal deaths include monocrotophos carbofuran, but also dieldrin, diazinon, 1080, triazophos, strychnine, fenthion and gamma_BHC. The Endangered Wildlife Trust's Poison Working Group reports that the top four toxins implicated in wildlife poisoning events are aldicarb, carbofuran, diazinon and methamidophos. During 2006, three baboons were poisoned in the Cape Town area with Dieldrin, a pesticide that has been banned since 1981. The person nursing one of these baboons was also poisoned by exposure to the vomit of one animal.
As seen above, poisons are used illegally in South Africa for various reasons _ from controlling pests to committing a crime. Therefore, proper control of pesticides is of utmost importance.
The Poison Working Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust
The Endangered Wildlife Trust Poison Work Group, has been working on poisoning for more than 15 years and has identified pesticides as the major poisoning problem.
The aim of the Poison Working Group (PWG) of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is to protect all elements of wildlife in southern Africa against deliberate or unintentional harm by stopping irresponsible and insensitive practices involving poisons. The EWT Poison Working Group is a representative forum that brings all stakeholders together in order to stop irresponsible and insensitive practices involving poison and consequently prevent negative impacts on wildlife populations, environmental contamination and ecosystem loss.
Questions about 1080
A couple of years ago there were a number of newspaper reports about a young man from Uitenhage who claimed that he became ill while working at the BKB (Boere Koƶperasie Beperk) pesticide section, where amongst other chemicals, he sold unregistered 1080 poison baits to sheep farmers for poisoning jackals. He worked at the BKB since 1993 and in 2002 he started to complain about a feeling of paralysis. A year later he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). His family questioned whether his contact with 1080 could have contributed to his condition. A thorough investigation followed and although the exposure to 1080 had nothing to do with his condition, it was realised that there is a great deal of ignorance and apathy about poison and agro_chemicals, and much is used in our country without proper control.
What is aldicarb?
As aldicarb is frequently implicated in animal poisonings, we wanted to know more about it. Aldicarb is a carbamate pesticide, and is one of the most potent insecticides on the market. It has a lethal dose (LD50) in the order of 5.6 mg/kg. In South Africa aldicarb has been registered as an active ingredient in only two products, namely commercial products with the trade names Temik and Sanacarb. Sanacarb is no longer available. The Fertilizers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act 36 of 1947 regulates the registration, application, availability, etc of pesticides in South Africa. Certain pesticides may also be controlled by the Hazardous Substances Act 15 of 1973. Aldicarb is legally only available to registered agricultural users of the product. But there are reports of aldicarb and other pesticides that are available at street markets or at so_called muti_markets where traditional medicine is sold locally (Allen, 2001).
Aldicarb is a systemic pesticide that has a dark grey to black, granule_like appearance. It is applied to soil and taken up by plant roots, but it is illegal to use aldicarb on certain crops because it can be incorporated in the flesh of the fruit. Aldicarb is one of the most toxic pesticides known, and as already said, its toxicity can be expressed as a lethal dose (LD50) of about 6 mg/kg body mass orally.
Government Notice No 5467 (Regulation Gazette of Government 2443) dated 25 March 1977, stated that Aldicarb has been declared a Group I (Category B) hazardous substance. Therefore it is governed by the Hazardous Substances Act 15 of 1973 as administered by the Department of Health.
Symptoms of aldicarb poisoning
Symptoms of aldicarb poisoning include weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea and eventually death, if untreated. The poison attacks the nervous system and inhibits breathing. The victim goes into a nervous state of major agitation and ultimately some of the vital organs will collapse and, if the dose is sufficiently high, the animal or human will die.
Establishing a chemical crime management forum
Due to the high number of poisoning cases making headlines and the realisation that there is a lot of poison in the country that is not properly controlled, the need to establish a Chemical Crime Management Forum was realised in 2006. This makes one think that poisoning is becoming a national concern and that there are many roleplayers that can give an input to make our country "chemically safe" for animals and humans. Roleplayers such as the Endangered Wildlife Trust Poison Working Group, NSPCA, representatives from the chemical companies such as Bayer, National Intelligence, SAPS, Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Tourism all have a role to play to ensure a chemically safe South Africa.
Poisoning is a cruel method of killing animals and the public must report cases of animal poisoning to the police. The public should report the incident to their nearest police station and obtain a CAS number. The sample, containing stomach content that is obtained by a local vet together with the CAS number must then be sent to the Toxicology Section at the SAPS Forensics Science Laboratory. This is then recorded on the forensic lab's database, which will then be communicated to the SAPS nodal point.
Setting up a nodal point
As chemical crime is an important issue, a nodal point to report such crime was established at the SAPS Head Office in January 2007 as instructed by Div Comm Du Toit (CRC and Forensics) and Div Comm De Beer (Detective Services). The SAPS Stock Theft Unit and the Forensic Science Laboratory established a close work relationship in this regard. The SAPS country_wide has been instructed on what procedure to follow. Until June 2007, 11 cases have been reported at this nodal point, these included: two puppies that were killed at Welbekend, whereafter a bakkie was stolen; four dogs that were poisoned, but survived, also at Welbekend; four dogs that were poisoned in Vryheid; two cats poisoned in Clanwilliam and 33 head of cattle in Lichtenburg are but some of the cases that have been reported to the nodal point.
All cases of poisoning must be reported to the SAPS nodal point at tel: (012) 393 1196 or at the crime stop number. The community is urged to continue reporting all poisoning incidents even if no other crime has been committed. Members of the public must insist that a case is opened when a poisoning case is reported. In addition to being able to lay charges in terms of the Animal Protection Act, charges can be laid in terms of the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Agriculture Remedies and Stock Remedies Act 36 of 1947 and Possession of an Illegal Substance Hazardous Substances Act 15 of 1973 in cases of aldicarb (Temic) poisoning.
Pesticide legislation
All pesticides in South Africa are controlled by the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act 36 of 1947. These are all products that claim to control, kill or repel any vertebrate or invertebrate pest, whether such products are natural or synthetic of origin. This ensures that products are effective, that they do not pose a significant risk to human beings and the environment, and do what they are supposed to do. The Act is highly prescriptive in terms of the registration requirements, claims that are made on the labels of such products and a host of other things. One of the Act's provisions is that buyers of Group 1 pesticides must sign for the transaction in a chemical register.
Pesticide manufacturers are bound by legislation to print warnings and precautions on their labels but in many cases the public do not read or follow the advice presented on the labels. The pesticides sold in the household and garden markets are usually less toxic than those products supplied to the agricultural industry, but still home owners poison themselves, their pets and their garden wildlife by not adhering to instructions.
According to Section 16 of the Hazardous Substances Act 15 of 1973 farmers who have not been cautious in the use of legitimate aldicarb may be prosecuted if their employees are found in possession of the substance. It is also against the law to keep poison in any other packaging than its original packaging. Poison must also be stored safely behind lock and key.
Should pesticides be used or not?
"Is the gogga (bug) really a pest?" is the question one must ask before grabbing a pesticide from the shelves. Conservationists argue that people should start respecting all life forms and not just the "big and hairy". People kill spiders _ which are an environmentally_friendly and a natural pest control system. Spiders can be seen as a natural insecticide and should never be killed, irrespective of whether they are poisonous or not. We cannot regard the insects that keep our gardens alive as less important than the birds. Yes, we admit that there are pests that attack our precious plants in our gardens that must be brought under control, but it is important that pesticides/insecticides should be used with great respect and caution. There are also many natural herbs available to repel pests _ educate yourselves!
Farmers who have to make a living out of their corps may have different opinions about agro_chemicals. Although Temik has received a lot of negative publicity due to all the animal poisoning cases, it is seen as an extremely effective product sold to the agricultural market. Farmers farming certain corps could be seriously impacted if this pesticide was not available, but responsible use and safe custody are critically important!
Illegal aldicarb sales
Despite the legislation, control is not sufficient since many instances have been reported of aldicarb, and other agricultural pesticides, being available freely on street markets, where it is sold as a rat poison. Aldicarb is often illegally sold on the street in 5 g amounts of Temik and often mixed with mealie_meal for bulk. Allen (2001) used the following example and said that according to the reported lethal dose, approximately 0.5 g is enough to kill an average person weighing 70 kg.
The illegal sale of agricultural pesticides, such as aldicarb at street markets, is a huge problem and South Africa is facing a challenge to control the illegal sale to and use of pesticides by the public. Additional danger is involved as the poisons are sold in unmarked packaging, without any information about content, application, preparation and safety measures to be taken.
Chemical industries’ role in the poison business
Some pesticide companies are very concerned about the misuse of their products and offer training to retailers on product safety and responsible use. Sadly, this training stops there, as members of the public are seldom, if ever, trained in responsible use.
Chemical companies such as Bayer who imports and distributes Temik as an agricultural aid, is busy developing poisoning treatment protocol together with Onderstepoort Research Institution. This information will be distributed to vets in the form of a file and posters. Pamphlets will also be distributed to the community (via local vets) to inform them what to do when a pet is poisoned. Posters will also be distributed to the police and agricultural dealers. Poisoning in general will be covered in this documentation.
It is the pesticide users' responsibility to use all pesticides only as instructed to get the desired effect, to minimise the impact on the environment and to prevent poisoning themselves, others and innocent animals.

Allen, J. 2001. Aldicarb: the Silent Killer, a Discussion of the Challenge Facing South Africa Regarding the Illegal Sale of Pesticides. Paper at the 2nd World Conference on Modern Criminal Investigation, Organised Crime and Human Rights in Durban.
Steyn, T. 2006. Jakkalsgif op koƶperasie_rak "kon nie tot siekte lei". Die Burger. 10 Julie 2006. _ accessed on 21 June 2007. 2268 2552 2590,31989.asp _ accessed on 18 June 2007. _ accessed on 18 June 2007.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 01 August 2007 )

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