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Published: Friday, 2013/09/06
RHINOS in the Kruger National Park are the victims of an escalating poaching war in which official statistics say more than 360 have been killed this year alone.
Aerial surveillance is one of the most effective tools game rangers have against poachers, thanks to a light aircraft funded by Vox Telecom and other donors.
Kruger is home to between 9000 and 12000 white rhinos more than 60% of South Africa’s entire white rhino population as well as between 580 and 650 of the highly endangered black rhino species. Roughly 5,5% of the park’s rhino population is lost every year due to poaching about two per day and more than 70% of the rhinos poached in South Africa every year are killed in the park itself.
“The Kruger National Park covers an area of almost 19633 square kilometres,” notes Bryn Pyne-James, senior general manager for SANParks fundraising. “Protecting an area that large against poachers with ground-based vehicles alone is impossible, but with air support we have a chance.”
Efforts to bring aerial support to the Kruger National Park stems back to the eighties, said ranger Steven Whitfield, but it wasn’t until 2005 that they were able to obtain a plane light and strong enough to meet their needs.
“Rangers must be able to spot carcasses and pin down the culprits quickly. Poachers tend to concentrate on one area at a time, often killing several rhino during a single incursion into the park. If we can find them quickly and use the aircraft to force them into hiding or slow them down, ground-based rangers have a chance to catch up. The plane has massive deterrent value.”
Unfortunately, the park lost its Bantam aircraft last year when it was destroyed in an accident. However, a chance encounter between Vox Telecom CEO Jacques du Toit and Bryn Pyne-James, senior general manager of SANParks fundraising, quickly led to Vox’s decision to make up the shortfall needed to purchase the plane, and cover its operating costs.
“Conserving our natural environment is one of the core aims of our corporate social investment programme, and this was one of the most rewarding investments we could make,” says Vox Telecom head of marketing Clayton Timcke.
According to Timcke, the Bathawk aircraft will not be their only contribution to the conservation effort. The company plans to actively assist SANParks ensure “connectivity for both tourists and rangers in the park”.