Men Indicted For Smuggling Leopard Hides

A 14-week-old unnamed female Amur Leopard looks on in her enclosure at Marwell Zoological Park in Winchester, England, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008. The leopard cub newly born into one of the most endangered species in the world finally got its first breath of fresh air after spending three months in its mother's den at a British zoo. Though there are around 200 Amur in captivity, a Wildlife Conservation Society census last April revealed there are less than 35 living in the wild.
AP Photo/Gareth Fuller, PA
A federal grand jury has indicted two South Dakota men on charges of smuggling African leopard hides and a skull into the United States.

Wayne D. Breitag of Aberdeen, S.D., and Jerry L. Mason of Frankfort, S.D., were charged with violating an international treaty that regulates shipments of certain species and also a federal wildlife statute. Mason is charged with smuggling a leopard hide and skull and Breitag is charged with smuggling a hide.

According to the indictment, Breitag and Mason traveled to South Africa in 2002 and killed leopards even though they knew they did not have the proper hunting permits. They later obtained false export permits to ship them back to the United States, the indictment says.

Jan Groenewald Swart, a South African outfitter who helped the two men bring the hides back to the United States, pleaded guilty to smuggling charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in May 2007. He is serving an 18-month prison sentence.

The indictment says Breitag and Mason were unable to obtain export permits in South Africa because they had killed the two leopards illegally, so Swart arranged to have the hides smuggled from South Africa into Zimbabwe, where he purchased fraudulent international export permits.

Breitag and Mason then sent applications to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming falsely that they hunted and killed the leopards in Zimbabwe instead of South Africa.

On Nov. 5, 2004, inspectors from the Fish and Wildlife Service seized a shipment of several leopard hides and skulls at the Denver International Airport, including those of the leopards killed by Breitag and Mason.

Smuggling is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and $250,000 fine, while the federal wildlife act violations are punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison and also a $250,000 fine.

The two men, who did not return calls for comment Wednesday, are scheduled to appear in court Aug. 19.