Fingerprints link accused to illegal tusks (South Africa)


By Francesca Villette

Date Published

Fingerprints of a man on trial for illegal possession of elephant tusks and finished ivory products were found on the items, the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court has heard on Monday.

Cheng Jie Liang had handled more than 3 000 pieces of illegally chopped elephant tusks, some still seeping with blood, the court heard.

Liang is on trial for the illegal possession of 3 232 African elephant tusks and finished ivory products worth about R21 million.

The ivory was found in two storerooms at The Storage Spot – a storage facility in Potsdam Road in Table View in 2012.

He pleaded not guilty.

Fingerprint expert Theresa Wernich testified and said she had positively identified six of Liang’s fingerprints on cardboard boxes and plastic bags where the ivory was packed.

Wernich compared Liang’s prints taken by police to those taken from the scene.

“No two people have the same print. I compared the prints lifted at the crime scene to that of police and found an identical match to Mr Liang,” she said.

Manager of the Cape Nature biodiversity crime unit Paul Gildenhuys also testified. Gildenhuys was one of the first people on the scene and gave a detailed description of what he found.

“Some tusks were still so ‘fresh’ that they were still damp and had a white liquid oozing from it.

“When I touched a piece of blood from the nerve cavity, it stuck to my hand because it (the blood) had not even congealed yet,” he said.

Gildenhuys said he estimated about 67 elephant tusks were chopped up into 3 232 pieces. Some of the ivory found by the police had already been manufactured into finished products. They were bangles, stamps, chopsticks and cigarette holders.

He added that the ivory was not from South Africa.

Gildenhuys showed the court photographs of the ivory the day it was seized. One tusk was covered in blood and still had pieces of flesh on it.

“It is likely that this tusk was hacked off the elephant using an axe. Tusks are very hard and these dents show some of the tusk had been chipped away,” he said.

The ivory was stored in sealed cardboard boxes and plastic bags.

Gildenhuys said some of the boxes read “product of Taiwan” and said the contents were labelled shrimps.

The trial continues on Tuesday.