By Boniface Keakabetse
Four men appeared before principal magistrate Clifford Foroma on Thursday on a single charge of poaching a rhinoceros.
From the four, two men are Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) employees: Jacob Thabare (42), who is a driver at WUC and a plumber at the corporation Keorapetse Itheetseng (33). The other accused are Morafe Disalahoo (51), of Nxaraga village, and George Thimbumburu (37), who hails from Sedie ward in Maun. These other two are both unemployed. According to the charge sheet, the four, between March 25, and April 3, 2013 at or near Tsotsia cattle post in the North West Administrative District, acting jointly unlawfully killed a rhinoceros. The offence is said to be contrary to Section 67 (6) of the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act (Cap 38:01). Attorney Charles Tlagae represents the accused while Ogomoditse Soonyana of the Maun Directorate of Public Prosecutions office represents the state.
They were all granted bail on condition that they appear in court on set dates, failing which, a court warrant will be issued for their arrest. The magistrate ruled against the state application that the accused persons should not be granted bail, as the fifth accused person is still on the run. The state also argued that if the accused are granted bail, they may jeorpadise ongoing investigations. Defence lawyer Tlagae opposed the state on the grounds that two of the accused persons are workers and if they are granted bail they may lose their employment.
He also said the offence the accused are charged for is bailable and the accused should not be held responsible for police failure to arrest the other accused person. Although the court did not ask the accused to plead, the first accused person in the case, Disalahoo admitted to court that they killed the rhino. The carcass of the dehorned rhino was discovered by police near Tsotsia cattle post recently.
Rhinos have been declared endangered species in Botswana due to poaching which has seriously compromised their numbers. An intact elephant carcass was reportedly found in the same area while the police said they suspected the elephant was killed by the same culprits who poached the rhino.
Efforts to get a comment from the Maun police on progress on the missing accused person and the dead elephant were futile at time of writing as the Maun station commander Kenny Badumetse had been out of the office since Tuesday.