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Alkantstrand’s fatal fish gift

Alkantstrand wood carver dies after eating a highly poisonous species

ONE of Alkantstrand’s popular wood carvers died and four others became gravely ill after they cooked and ate a deadly Toby (puffer fish) last weekend.

What appeared to be a genuine act of goodwill turned to tragedy after an angler donated the highly toxic fish to the men who work daily at the entrance to the beach area.

After receiving an emergency call from a friend, local marine conservationist Frans Mthembu attended the scene in his personal capacity.

‘My friend said the wood carvers had called him asking for a lift to the clinic but we were not prepared for what we found,’ said Mthembu.

‘When we arrived, the guys could not walk, they could not talk, they were very sick.

‘The head of the fish was still there and I immediately identified it as a Toby.’

Mthembu and his friend rushed three of the men to KwaMbonambi Clinic, where they met a fourth man who was in the most serious condition.

Paralysing agent

‘Because the poison in this species of fish attacks the nervous system, these guys were stiff, almost paralysed,’ said Mthembu.

‘Mandla Thandani, who we met at the clinic, had been put on a drip but he did not respond, and soon passed away’.

The remaining three were given milk in the hopes they would throw up.

This worked for Nkosinathi Qwabe who did not need to be referred to hospital.

Thabini Manzine and Phumlani Dube were transferred to Ngwelezana Hospital where they remain in a serious but improving condition.

Thabini is still bedridden, although he can now sit up, and Phumlani has started walking.

Mthembu left the head of the fish at the hospital to help doctors determine what medication to administer.

Sibongiseni Dube and Lethi Dube, both brothers of hospital-bound Phumlani Dube, were not seriously ill.

‘Lethi threw up as soon as he ate the fish, so was not affected,’ said Nkosinathi, who has now fully recovered.

Deadly meal

At about 9am last Saturday, the carvers were given the fish by a passing angler.

‘We are often given fish so did not think anything of it, we were just happy for the food,’ said Nkosinathi.

They cooked and ate the fish and the symptoms took effect at about 3pm.

This particular puffer fish species is the Lagocephalus guentheri, or SA blackback blaasop.

It is a shallow water fish, found between Port Elizabeth and just south of the Mfolozi River, and is normally found scavenging around jetties and wharfs.

Its poisonous liver, skin and intestines are deadly to humans.

‘No one is saying this was intentional but I want to appeal to the public to please first identify a fish before you give it to someone,’ said Mthembu.

‘If you do not know what fish you have caught, rather release it and if it is already dead, take it to the local authorities for identification before either eating it or giving it to someone else.’

With his vast knowledge of marine life, Mthembu is happy to assist in this regard, in his personal capacity.

Captain Mthethwa, Communications Officer at KwaMbonambi SAPS, confirmed an inquest has been opened and the matter is under investigation.

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