The Free State MEC for Economic, Small Business Development and Tourism, Limakatso Mahasa, has welcomed the conviction of Deon Cilliers (52), a professional hunter, taxidermist and the owner of Hunters Safari.

Cilliers was convicted in the Ladybrand Magistrate’s Court on 4 June after he had pleaded guilty to 45 counts of contravening the Biodiversity Act and the Conservation Act. He was found guilty on charges of contravening Section 57(1) of the National Environmental Management Act.

The court has served him with a R1 million fine, to be paid to the Asset Forfeiting Unit; or to face five years in prison.

Included in his plea was the illegal hunting of 39 captively bred lions; the keeping of eight caracals without permits and the importation and release of nine scimitar oryx – an exotic species.

Cilliers’ sentencing followed investigation which had been started in 2015 by the police and law-enforcement unit and successful prosecution by the National Prosecuting Authority.

Investigation revealed that most of Cilliers’ hunting clients came from the United States of America and Poland.

Most of the hunts took place on the Bellevue Farm in the Excelsior District in the Free State without the required permits.

Blood Lions, an organisation tire­lessly fighting to show the wrongs in the industry, has welcomed Cilliers’ conviction.

The goal of the organisation is to bring an end to canned hunting and the exploitative breeding of lions and other predators on farms across South Africa.