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S.Africa convicts great white shark hunter

A South African court has convicted a man for killing a great white shark in the country’s first-ever ruling on such a case, the agriculture and fisheries ministry said Monday.

The landmark decision was lauded by conservationists who said they hoped the move will help dissuade others from hunting the protected species.

A Western Cape court last Friday fined recreational fisherman Leon Bekker 120,000 rand ($13,400, 10,000 euro) for catching and killing the predator in 2011.

“This is the first great white shark case and conviction in any South African court,” the ministry said in a statement.

Bekker was also handed a 12-month suspended prison sentence.

Local media published pictures showing Bekker dragging the shark onto the rocky shore.

Advocacy group the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed the ruling.

“For authorities to take such clear action is an excellent indication of their commitment to upholding protected species status,” said WWF South Africa spokeswoman Eleanor Yeld-Hutchings.

“The not-inconsiderable sentencing… will hopefully be a deterrent to these practises in South Africa,” she added.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a world body that works to protect endangered wildlife, has listed great white sharks as a vulnerable species.

Present around the globe, the fearsome predators can grow up to 3.5 metres (16 feet) in length. Commercial fishermen prize their fins, jaws, teeth, liver oil, skin and meat.

“There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that they continue to be targeted by the recreational fishery as a ‘trophy’ species, and also that there is an ongoing trade in white shark body parts,” Yeld-Hutchings said.

According to the eastern province KwaZulu-Natal Shark Board, over 1,200 great whites roam the South African coast.

In 1991, South Africa became the first country to pass laws to protect the animal. Since then, researchers say the population of the shark species has been able to grow reasonably healthy in number.

Many other countries, including the United States, have followed suit to protect the shark.