August 12, 2014 / 12:37 PM / 5 years ago

South African police seize $1 million of illegal abalone

A bag of dried abalone confiscated from suspected poachers is seen in Cape Town March 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African police have shut down an illegal abalone-drying facility and seized six tonnes of the gourmet mollusk with an estimated street value of 10 million rand ($1 million), one of their biggest busts against international poaching rings.

Police spokeswoman Kholekile Galawe said two Chinese men and a South African had been arrested during the raid on a remote farm in the impoverished Eastern Cape province. They were cooking and drying the delicacy, known locally as “perlemoen”.

“Little did they know that the long arm of the law would reach them in their hideout,” Galawe said in a statement.

The three men will appear in court on Wednesday.

Destined for trendy restaurants in Hong Kong and China, abalone - dubbed “white gold” after its pearly flesh - can fetch up to 4,500 rand a kilogram on the South African black market, and nearly three times that in Asia, experts say.

Johannesburg police arrested four people in July at another drying plant that yielded nearly five tonnes of illegally caught abalone. Rampant poaching is driving the species to the brink of extinction in the southern Africa region, experts say.

($1 = 10.6592 South African Rand)

Reporting by Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Ed Cropley

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