Plane donation helps to fight rhino poaching in Kruger Park

2013-09-05 12:15
Wildlands Conservation Trust officials have darted and tagged seven rhino to prevent poaching in Kwa-Zulu Natal. (Luke Pallet, Wildlands Conservation Trust, file)

Wildlands Conservation Trust officials have darted and tagged seven rhino to prevent poaching in Kwa-Zulu Natal. (Luke Pallet, Wildlands Conservation Trust, file)

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Cape Town - Rhino in the Kruger National Park will get additional protection with the donation of a light aeroplane to spot potential poaching activities.

The massive park makes it difficult for ground-based poaching prevention activities.

"The Kruger National Park covers an area of almost 19 633km² - that's roughly the size of Israel," said 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," he added.

Rhino populations are coming under increasing threat and a large percentage have been poached in the national park.

Effective

According to the department of environmental affairs (DEA), 553 rhino have been poached in SA so far this year. Of these, 345, or 62%, have been poached in the Kruger Park.

Poaching is on course to nearly double the 668 total of 2012, which was also significantly higher than the 448 poached in 2011.

Rangers in the park had access to an aircraft, and it proved to be effective in deterring poachers.

"We initially used a four-cylinder Bantam light aircraft, which we traded up for a six-cylinder Bantam," said ranger Steven Whitfield. "It proved to be a very important anti-poaching tool."

However, that plane was destroyed in an accident in 2012 and this year, a chance meeting between Vox Telecom CEO Jacques du Toit and senior general manager of San Parks Fundraising, Bryn Pyne-James, resulted the telecoms company donating an aeroplane for use in anti-poaching operations.

"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," said Clayton Timcke head of Marketing at Vox Telecom.

Demand

Efforts against poachers are paying off, but more needs to be done on the demand side for horn before rhino populations begin to decline.

The DEA said that 148 poachers have been arrested in 2013, compared to 267 last year, and 232 in 2011, but the WWF said that the focus should be pointed to Asia while continuing to target local poachers.

"I absolutely agree Asia is the root of the problem - obviously in South Africa we must do as much as we can to protect the rhino, but that's not going to solve the problem. I think that's a key point," Dr Jo Shaw, Rhino Co-ordinator for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-SA) told News24.

The park is trying to raise funds to buy four additional aeroplanes to conduct anti-poaching activities.


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