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Motlaleselelo

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Hope and worry as tourists begin to arrive

* Councillor excited over job creation

* Expresses fear of illegal wildlife trade surge

As Botswana opens its borders to international flights following almost seven months of closure, there is hope of resuscitation of the tourism sector, but on the other hand there is fear that private chartered flights allowed to fly directly in and out of the Okavango Delta may result in an increase of wildlife crime.

Speaking at the North West District full council meeting last week, Bojanala ward Councilor, Luke Motlaleselelo expressed concern that direct flights into the delta pose a risk of undetected theft of baby animals and cubs.

“With direct flights in and out of the Delta, we are going to see an increase in poaching and theft of baby animals. How prepared is the department of wildlife for that?”

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Motlaleselelo says his concern was based on previous reports of some tourists who were caught with cubs when they were about to leave the country a few years back.

“This is an area of concern. Lion and cheetah cubs get stolen from the Delta because direct flights do not undergo thorough immigration routine checks,” added Motlaleselo.

Asked if there was any history of animal theft in the area, former Regional Director of wildlife, Timothy Blackbeard, said the only animal theft he was aware of was that of Pangolins in the Gumare area.

“What I know is that pangolins were taken from Gumare and Nokaneng areas around 2017 and 2018,” explained Blackbeard. – in an interview away from council proceedings.

Motlaleselelo

The retired ranger further indicated that theft of cubs is common around Kgalagadi including Bokspits and Khawa areas where animal theft syndicate was arrested back in 2014. “Three or four Batswana were caught. The cubs were taken to South Africa and I still believe the syndicates are still there.”

Animal theft is a dangerous million-dollar business carried out with weapons of war for Kingpins in foreign countries. “This group nearly killed one of our patrol members at the time. They tried to strangle him with a wire and left him in the bush. They are very difficult to catch. This group took us a year to arrest. They had info of our movements from within police and our department,” explained Blackbeared.

He maintained that some farmers from neighbouring countries pay locals large sums of money to steal lion cubs. However he went on to express hope and say, “The Delta may not have that problem, well I hope not.”

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Blackbeard also expressed gratitude that finally borders have opened up and with the return of travel jobs would be restored.

This month Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) lifted restrictions for international chartered flights and allowed them to fly directly into the Delta.

This according to BTO is a standard operating procedure, which will assist in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Covid-19 was declared a world pandemic early this year and has since killed close to one and half million people the world over.

So far Botswana has recorded 31 out of 9 992 total recorded cases since the outbreak, which reared its ugly face in Botswana around May.

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