Durban Airshow: A proposal and an upside-down rhino

2012-07-16 00:00

WHEN Jacqueline Maduramuthu came to the Durban Airshow with her boyfriend, Nishen Khedun, little did she know that Nishen had planned a proposal to his girlfriend of five-and-a-half years.

Maduramuth was escorted to the broadcast area, where Khedun proposed to Jacqueline on his knee, a delighted Nishen slipped an engagement ring on Jacqueline’s finger with very warm applause from the 12 000 strong crowd during the 55th Durban Airshow held at the Virginia airport in Durban on Saturday

To raise awareness around the scourge of rhino poaching, spectators at the 2012 Durban Air Show also witnessed a simulated “rhino poaching attack” in the heart of the concrete jungle on Saturday.

The “rhino” used in the spectacle was none other than Ralston — the full-size rhino replica and mascot of Skydive for Rhinos, an African Conservation Trust campaign to raise R10 million for rhinos threatened by increased poaching in South Africa.

About 12 000 spectators looked on as the “rhino” was airlifted using the skills of helicopter pilots in a low-flying manoeuvre.

Pilot Brad Hatfield of JNC Helicopters took on the role of the “bad guy” in a Robinson 22 aircraft. A Hughes 500 aircraft piloted by Nick Cooke of Acher Aviation — starring as the “Anti-Poaching Aerial Support Unit” — then airlifted Ralston the rhino and flew him, upside-down, down the length of the runway.

According to the African Conservation Trust, the manoeuvre highlighted a rhino air-sling technique developed in South Africa that suspends a tranquillised rhino by its ankles. The Trust said it was used last year in the Eastern Cape for the first time by conservationists to successfully transport 20 rhinos from remote and mountainous areas with no access roads to game recovery trailers, cutting down the time needed to keep rhinos under sedation.

The Trust said about 448 rhinos were poached last year, adding that the tally this year is fast approaching the figure recorded in 2011.

Sheelagh Antrobus, leader of the Skydive for Rhinos campaign and co-ordinator of the Project Rhino KZN group, said aerial support plays a crucial role in combating poaching.

The Trust hopes that they will attract at least 448 people throughout South Africa to “Skydive for Rhinos”, thereby raising about R10 million toward improving anti-poaching measures.

“We’ve already lost 80 more rhinos compared to this time last year. If this is not motivation and reasons enough to make everyone sit up and take notice, then what is?” asked Antrobus.

KwaZulu-Natal will host the campaign between August17-19 in Eston near Pietermaritzburg.

For more information, visit www.skydive4rhinos.org, or follow the campaign on www.facebook.com/skydiveforrhinos, or on Twitter @RhinoSkydiver.

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