Cheetah smugglers nabbed

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Middleman, Syndicate leader also arrested

ZOLANI KRAAI

Investigations by the Tsabong Police are ongoing in a matter in which 6 Batswana men were arrested for allegedly capturing a Cheetah.
Acting Station Commander for Tsabong Police Assistant Superintendent, Kitsiso Lemogang told The Botswana Gazette that they received a tip-off on 8th February, that some men had gone towards Bar Trek ranches, at an area called KD15 south west of Tsabong, claiming they were going to capture some big cats, among them cheetahs.
Lemogang said an anti-wildlife poaching team comprising of the wildlife wardens, Botswana Defense Force (BDF) as well as the Botswana Police and other security agencies pursued the men but only to arrest suspect Thato Masetlane of Maubelo, aged 22.
“Masetlane was arrested at the spot where he was left alone by his 4 companions to keep an eye on the Toyota 4×4 vehicle they were using after it broke down. It was after the arrest that Masetlane led us to the crime scene,” Lemogang said.
When they arrived at the crime scene, Lemogang says they found the cheetah still alive but in bad state, caged and dehydrated. It is suspected that the poachers used a dart mode gun to sedate the animal before capture. The cheetah was however recently released from the safe custody of the BDF base in Tsabong and back to the game reserve, this publication has learnt.
Lemogang says they have concluded their investigations needed in the matter, with regards to the animal biological evidence needed.
With regards to the whereabouts of the other 4 suspects, Lemogang said they managed to arrest them and are namely Oteng Kgomo (19) John Frederick Brooks (39) Lebogang Tebele (24) and Matlhomola Rebang (22) all of Tsabong.
It also surfaced during investigations that there was another suspect, Gert Dijeng, a mastermind, middle man and leader of the cheetah smuggling syndicate.
Dijeng was arrested on 10thFebruary and according to Superintendent Lemogang the smugglers already had plans to smuggle the big cat to a South African white farmer across the Botswana-South African border.
Lemogang said they are yet to establish the identification of the implicated white farmer while all the 5 accused persons have been charged with capturing the protected animal contrary to section 17 (2) of the Wildlife Conservation and Natural Resources.
If found guilty, Lemogang said, they are liable to a minimum fine of P10,000 or 7 years in prison. The suspects have since been released from police custody while awaiting date of mention at the Tsabong Magistrate Court.
From the past investigations carried out by this reporter, common points of transactions used for smuggling cheetahs and lions are near Tsabong and along the McCarthy’s Rust borderline and Makopong and Draihoek villages along the Botswana and South African boarder fence.
The business of predator smuggling, in particular of lions and cheetahs is a lucrative especially in Kgalagadi South. Though investigative proof by the publication suggests that payment to herd boys in Botswana to smuggle big cats into South Africa is about P5,000 per cub, buyers commonly South African white farmers can make a minimum kill of R250,000 per animal.
Between 2000 and 2013, more than 5 medium profile predator smuggling cases were reported to Botswana Police in Tsabong, with at least 2 convictions made of fine penalties to at least 3 Batswana from Maubelo, Maralaleng, Middlepits near Tsabong.
Despite vast efforts by the Wildlife and BDF anti-poaching units in trying to curb poaching through extensive patrols along Kalahari Transfontier Park (KTP) cutlines and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), smugglers seem to be always ahead of them, at least until the recent arrests.

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