Rhino plane arrives

2015-11-28 10:15
Welcoming the new Bushcat to Zululand skies are (Left to Right): Carl Grossmann (Chairman of the African Conservation Trust – legal owners of the aircraft), Sheelagh Antrobus (Project Rhino KZN co-ordinator), Francois du Toit (CEO of the African Cons

Welcoming the new Bushcat to Zululand skies are (Left to Right): Carl Grossmann (Chairman of the African Conservation Trust – legal owners of the aircraft), Sheelagh Antrobus (Project Rhino KZN co-ordinator), Francois du Toit (CEO of the African Cons (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - As Zululand’s anti-rhino poaching lobby celebrated having a new fixed-wing aircraft in the air, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has still not got its controversial helicopter contract airborne.

This is despite ring-fenced funding of R27 million being made available by the provincial government exclusively for anti-poaching efforts by Ezemvelo. The helicopter service has been grounded since August.

But this week the rhino community found reason to smile when they took delivery of their new Bushcat fixed wing aircraft, which will act as yet another cog in the fight against rhino poaching in northern KZN.

Sheelagh Antrobus, Project Rhino KZN co-ordinator, said the funding for the plane came from “private donors”.

The fixed wing plane forms part of the Zululand Anti Poaching Airwing, known as ZAP-Wing, which works with Ezemvelo. Under an agreement the private sector would provide the plane and Ezemvelo, with their ring-fenced funding, would provide two helicopters.

“The plane was secured under the African Conservation Trust while various NGOs and private game reserves contribute to running costs. The Bushcat is lovely to run. It costs only R5 000 a month for fuel and it runs off 95 unleaded. They fly low and slow and it has a big range, being capable of flying from Hluhluwe to Swaziland and back on a full tank of fuel,” said Antrobus.

She said 17 game reserves would benefit from the service. There has been no fixed wing plane operating exclusively for ZAP-wing since September.

African Conservation Trust CEO Francois du Toit said they were one of the founders of ZAP-Wing.

“This is a replacement aircraft after our other fixed wing was grounded after an accident. We took delivery of it on Wednesday,” said du Toit.

This week KZN Treasury MEC Belinda Scott told the KZN Legislature that R27 million was being made available to Ezemvelo, split over three years. Scott said the funding was for Ezemvelo’s “anti-poaching efforts” and was “specific and exclusive to ensure EKZNW does not use these funds for any other purpose”.

While Ezemvelo officials were unable to give any concrete update on the future of the helicopter service and why it was still grounded, Weekend Witness did ascertain that a call for quotes has been put out to service providers, with that process having closed this week, and that the tenders should be read out in December. A source said the contract up for grabs was for 18 months and had less stipulations than the previous tender which was cancelled.

Weekend Witness previously reported that a series of delays in finalising what was initially a three-year helicopter contract, which was expected to start in August, had resulted in the anti-poaching airwing unit being grounded.

Furthermore in May, when the project was still operational and Ezemvelo needed to extend the contract for the two months of June and July, the organisation overlooked its two operators who had been running the service for nearly two years and handed it to security company which had never operated in the aviation space, had no operating licence, no contracts/agreements with helicopter providers and no pilots. The company was forced to withdraw just days later.

The reason why the three-year contract has not been finalised has changed three times. Initially the organisation said the delay was due to the slow process of awarding tenders and poor attendance at critical decision-making meetings. Later, Ezemvelo acting CEO Dr David ­Mabunda said that the companies shortlisted didn’t meet the technical requirements. Lastly it was claimed the organisation cancelled the tender because it was too costly.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  rhino

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