More than seven years after the death of over 700 exotic African Grey parrots on a flight between Johannesburg and Durban, a legal battle about the ownership of the parrots has still not been resolved.
Boksburg attorney Ben Moodie, through his company Iceland Industrial Projects, instituted a R2 million claim for damages against Roodepoort exotic bird breeder Hendrik Matthews in 2011 – but Matthews filed papers opposing the claim only last week in the High Court in Pretoria.
The court is yet to determine the real ownership of the parrots, with Moodie claiming he was the real owner, but that the parrots were under Matthews’ control when they died.
Matthews, on the other hand, claimed he never actually took possession of the parrots and they, in any event, belonged to exotic bird dealer Gideon Fourie, who he said imported them to South Africa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Moodie attached invoices to prove that Iceland had paid $90 000 for the parrots and said Fourie had only acted as his agent to buy them in the DRC, and to make arrangements for them to be transport to South Africa.
The death of the birds on Christmas Day in 2010 sparked an international outcry about the domestic capture of African Greys in the DRC and the local trade in the birds – which can fetch over R2 500 each.
Matthews in December 2010 obtained a court order to confiscate the parrots to satisfy a R750 000 debt owed to him by Fourie. Moodie sought to have the order set aside, but the court granted a further order allowing Matthews to transfer the 800 parrots to a quarantine facility in KwaZulu-Natal pending finalisation of the ownership dispute.
The court ruled that Matthews would be responsible for the safety, transfer and upkeep of the parrots and ordered him to submit a R2 million bank guarantee in favour of Iceland. Iceland alleged Matthews never delivered the bank guarantee, causing the court order to lapse and he was obliged to either deliver the parrots or to pay Iceland R2 million, plus interest dating back to 2010.
Matthews denied that he was indebted to Iceland and said the birds were still under quarantine and remained under the control of Nature Conservation when they were put on the flight to Durban.