Episode: 31 May 2010
1 Simon: In recent years, the atrocious practice of criminals poisoning dogs to gain access to suburban houses has become commonplace.
André: The victims are the dogs we love and that die to protect us. The poison of choice is ‘Two Step’ ... referring to how quickly it kills. It is illegal for the man on the street to have it in his possession. So where exactly does it come from?
Ntokozo: 50|50 hits the streets of Johannesburg to investigate just how easy it is to acquire it. We follow our team with hidden cameras, as they go deep undercover and even surprise ourselves with the results! But we must warn you that some of the opening scenes may be quite disturbing for sensitive viewers.
Parys, Free State – Monday 12th April 2010
Antoinette Rens – Dog Owner: Devon was laying over there. I screamed, “Our dogs have been poisoned”. I picked him up and brought him inside the house. Then they all started coming inside one by one. We were screaming at each other. They fell one after the other ... dead. It was a terrible sight, if people could only know how cruel their death was.
Jeff Rens – Dog Owner: How can people do this to dogs? They were not big dogs, they were like my children.
Leanrie Rens – Dog Owner: It was something you did not need to see. They were lying all over the house. In February I got three new dogs that had been abused. They were very neglected. When I saw how many were already dead I went hysterical.
Wendy: How many of your dogs died?
Antoinette Rens: Thirteen, and the cat that belonged to our neighbour. The cat was pregnant.
Constantia, Roodepoort – Sunday 25th April 2010
Bridget Sepamla – Dog Owner: Snowball and Spiky. They were my babies you know. When my kids were not here, every time they phoned me they had to speak to the dogs. It was like the dogs could talk to them over the phone. As soon as they heard their voices they started barking.
Snowball was in here just lying there and I just bought a bog bag of food.
Kamogelo Sepamla – Dog Owner: I couldn’t believe it happened.
Wendy: Shame, are you going to miss them
Kamogelo Sepamla: Yes
Wendy: The loss of a family pet due to poisoning is both traumatic and devastating. Our dogs are usually an early warning system to potential intruders. The bad guys know this so they neutralize the threat. They kill our dogs.
Their poison of choice is Aldicarb with street name “Two Step”. This is an extremely toxic pesticide, a granular substance with a gunpowder appearance that when used in an agricultural context is applied to the soil in its dry form.
Aldicarb is available from vendors selling their goods on the sidewalks of our cities. It is a street poison and it is leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn – Griffon Poison Information Centre: 800 dogs per month get killed in our country because of Aldicarb and other poisons for people to gain access to our properties to commit armed robberies, house theft, rape, murder and petty theft. Many people have died, many dogs have died and many wildlife animals have died because of this. It is absolutely lethal in the hands of the wrong people. We have one manufacturer of Aldicarb in this country. That is done by Bayer Crop Science. It is called Temik.
Pieter Fourie – Bayer Crop Science: Temik is essentially a nematicide. For the layman, a nematicide is an agricultural chemical which actively controls nematodes in the soil. For those of you who do not know nematodes - you can describe them as tiny worms attacking the root part of plants which has a drastic effect on the growth and quality of the plant. Temik is a great product. It’s a systemic product and its value has been proven over and over again. It results in good yields, improved growth as well as quality of crops.
The man on the street is not allowed to posses any of the product, in whatever form, whether in the original pack or outside the pack. It is not allowed because it is outside of the law, it is an illegal possession for him.
Wendy: It must be emphasized that Temik is not the only poison that is accessible to the criminals in our country.
2Tim Snow – EWT Wildlife Conflict Prevention Group: People buy a big container and then they mix up some concoction. We’ve had mieliepap mixtures with parathions quite a dangerous chemical and a fair variety of chemicals that are used. The most commonly spoken about one is Temik.
Wendy: The distribution of Temik is carefully monitored by Bayer through a stewardship program. It is bought to South Africa from America and according to Bayer, it is very carefully monitored right to the point that it is delivered to qualified farmers. So how is this poison ending up on our streets?
Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn: I can give you one answer. Because controls in our country is nullified because of a poor governance system. The illegal Aldicarb comes in from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, and as far as Tanzania so the borders are porous. Anyone can walk across the border with a bag of Aldicarb and no one would notice.
Tim Snow: The chemical is usually stolen from a farm store or bought through unethical trading and then repacked and sold by the “big fish” or the big criminals, who then sell them to the street traders.
Wendy: If an animal in the wild was poisoned using Aldicarb what is the impact on the environment
Tim Snow: If an animal is poisoned in the wild it is likely to die. Insects that land on that carcass are likely to die and animals that feed on that carcass are likely to die.
Wendy: Animals are snared and their carcasses lased with Aldicarb. The primary objective is to poison vultures for the thriving muthi market.
How lethal is it?
Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn: This is about 4 to 5 grams with this amount you can kill ten adults like myself within half an hour.
Wendy: What are the symptoms?
Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn: You first get dizziness and there is very often nausea with a lot of salivation. If it’s an overdose, there is a lot of frothing around the mouth. The pupils constrict completely, this means they close completely. Then you stop breathing and you get total collapse of the central nervous system. It’s a nerve toxin. It impacts on the nervous system. That’s why it is so quick to kill an organism with this stuff.
Wendy: What happens if a human ingests a piece of the animal that was killed with Aldicarb?
Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn: We’ve had cases where people killed guinea fowl with Aldicarb. An old man walked past with his dogs up in the northern parts of Zululand. He picked up the guinea fowl. He cooked the guinea fowl and he ate the guinea fowl. He and his 4 dogs were dead within one day.
Wendy: As effective as Aldicarb is as an agricultural pesticide it is also terrifyingly effective as a means to kill. Bayer Crop Science is making an effort to curb the use of its product in crimes like murder by adding to Temik’s formula.
The addition of Bitrex into the formulation is a precautionary measure to prevent accidental intake through the mouth and also for intentional intake. It is so bitter that when you take it in, you will immediately spit it out.
Since they’ve had that in the formulation we’ve found that the suicides and homicides linked to the ingestion of Temik dropped by over 90%. That was a successful intervention. Unfortunately, it did not stop the animal poisonings because animals don’t perceive bitterness like we do. To them bitter means nothing. I have tested the Bitrex on my vultures, on jackals, on leopards, cheetahs ... everything. There is no consequence, nothing! But for people it is so bitter that one granule will leave a bitter taste in your mouth for 4 days.
Wednesday 23rd April 2010
Please note that the independent undercover agents who assisted us in this segment were all using fake names.
Wendy: Well we’ve heard that it’s really easy to buy these poisons on the street from vendors, and from hawkers. So with us we’ve got Fortunate who is an independent investigator, and he is going to help us buy some street poisons.
Our first port of call is the vendors outside the Randburg taxi rank.
This was Fortunate’s first undercover shoot and he is understandably nervous.
Fortunate has disappeared amongst the vendors. We not quite sure where he is and we’ve lost communication with him so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Success came quickly although it was obviously not Aldicarb.
Fortunate: Ok so I found these little pellets.
Wendy: It’s definitely not Temik. I can say that there are absolutely no instructions on how to use it, how strong it is, or what concentration. There are wheat seeds and barley seeds and oats on here too. They are all nice pretty colours so it will appeal to everything from birds to children.
Fortunate got this on the outskirts of the Randburg taxi rank from the vendors and now we are going to send him inside the taxi rank. We shall stay here and see what he comes back with.
Fortunate: Okay, wish me luck.
Wendy: Finding a vendor that sold Aldicarb inside the taxi rank was easy enough. Finding the actual pesticide was proving to be allot more difficult.
Fortunate: I have found someone that sells Temik but it’s finished.
Johannesburg, CBD - Friday 23rd April 2010 – 11h00
Wendy: Although disappointed we were not going to give up the vendors all directed us to the Johannesburg CBD. Once again Fortunate walked among the vendors looking for something that would catch his eye.
The small tables on the pavements held a variety of insecticides and rat poisons. If we freeze this frame we can see at least six different types of possible pesticides. Most of them unlabeled.
At last our persistence paid off. Fortunate purchased a plastic bag containing a fine black granular substance, and from what Gerhard Verdoorn had shown us earlier, this was Aldicarb.
Fortunate, now full of confidence, walked up to another vendor just a few meters away. This time with immediate results. Another small bag of Aldicarb was purchased and our visibly chuffed undercover agent returned to our vehicle.
Fortunate: That went well.
Wendy: So it’s easy to get?
This is two step. I’ve got more and he was hiding it, it was not in his usual stash of insecticides. He took it from under his table.
André: Now we are going to ask a few experts to help us to find the source of these street poisons.
Ntokozo: After a week of gathering information and getting access to the poisons responsible for the killing of dogs and wildlife ... it was time to carry our investigation one step further.
Wendy: So now we had confirmation that Aldicarb is readily available from the street vendors. Now we needed to find out where it’s coming from. In order to achieve this we recruited some help from a private eye, Kyle Condon and his partner who we shall call Bob.
Johannesburg, CBD - Wednesday 28th April – 09h30
3Wendy: Once Kyle and our second camera where in position, our mission was to purchase a larger quantity of Aldicarb and find out where it was coming from.
We are on a stake out in the middle of town. Bob is just over there he is sitting very close to the vendor. Fortunate is ... moved on?
Soon Fortunate came back into the view of our cameras. A stakeout like this can take ages and boredom soon sets in. Finally Fortunate reached the vendor he had purchased his “two step” from five days earlier. Expectation however turned to frustration.
Well we’ve been sitting watch the intersection in this damn car for 2 hours now. It’s getting a tad hot in here. I’m a little bit irritated.
Then Fortunate signalled to someone. A transaction has taken place. A description of the carrier is called in to Kyle.
Something went down. A guy came up and gave Fortunate some stuff. He’s walking towards us now with a little blue packet.
We are amazed at the amount of police activity in the immediate vicinity of the two-step merchants. The illegal trading goes on undisturbed
So what happened?
Fortunate: I was about to go home when some guy ran up to me and said my package has arrived.
Wendy: And that is what he gave you?
Wendy: The small packets sold for just R5, and we had paid R120 for this package. The gloves are a necessity due to the toxicity of Aldicarb, which is absorbed through the skin if it comes into contact with moisture.
Yip that’s it. From what we learnt this one is the Aldicarb that is sold as Temik. Not a whole lot of dust, just the grey granules.
Now it was up to Bob to tail the runner and see where the poison was coming from.
I think it is incredibly scary to see how easy it is to get any of the street poisons. They are not just Mickey Mouse things, they are serious poisons that are readily available. That is very scary, very ... very scary.
A delivery vehicle blocked Kyle’s view of the vendors. We could see that Bob was back. We were hoping he had achieved his objective and met up further down the street.
Bob when you followed the runner where did he take you?
Bob: First he bought something about two blocks away and from there he ran into the mall. He was not walking he was literally running.
Kyle Condon – D & K Management Consultants: Look they run the operation like it is a drugs cartel. They got runners and they got sellers. The runner runs off and brings. It is hidden in different places. I don’t think that there is one location. I think it’s spread out over various locations.
Wendy: Fortunate you say that the vendors say that the cops buy the poisons from them?
Fortunate: Yes, they do buy from them and they don’t arrest them. The security guards are also involved they keep a look out for them. And the cops are apparently involved.
Wendy: They understand that it’s a deadly poison?
Fortunate: Yea they explained that to me. They even told me that it’s not from South Africa.
4Wendy: Well we’ve spent the whole day and what we have found out is that this is an incredibly rampant crime. It is incredibly depressing.
Disappointed that we had not found the source of the street poison we took our purchase back to Gerhard Verdoorn to get his reaction. We had no idea of the magnitude of what we held in our hands.
Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn: This is the biggest quantity I have seen in my life in a sachet. Yoh! This is very bad news. Really! This is about 250 grams and with this you can kill a couple of hundred people.
Gerhard why is this so shocking to you?
Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn: Because I have never in my life seen quantities of this magnitude. I have always seen the 4 gram packages the 5 gram packages, but I have never seen big volumes like this been sold openly to somebody on the street corners.
This tells me it is not just a normal vendor. It is part of a big crime syndicate. If you can get to the bottom of this you can get to the bottom of the syndicates that poison the dogs that commit the Schedule 1 crimes at homes, on the farms and all over the country. This is absolutely shocking.
Wendy: Barking dogs alert us to potential intruders, but this however is the reality. I just threw a sausage over the gate. If that sausage was laced with Aldicarb that beautiful dog would be dead in a few minutes. It is that simple. The crime that followed the poisoning could be any of the terrible attacks we are subjected to on a daily basis.
We can protect our pets from this crime. Keep them inside at night. That way they will stay alive and still be able to protect you