Pilot fined for flying too low over game park

2010-03-29 00:00

IN the first case of its kind in South Africa’s oldest world heritage site, a pilot was fined because he flew too low over the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Aircraft and helicopters that fly too low over world heritage sites like iSimangaliso (formerly the St Lucia Wetland Park) and the uKhahlamba/Drakensberg Park are a concern as aircraft noise can disturb the breeding of rare birds.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is also getting ready to fine pilots for such transgressions, although it currently warns them away.

Francois Burger (41), a flying instructor from Mbazwane near Sodwana, was found guilty last Thursday in Mtubatuba of disregarding the minimum flight height above the iSimangaliso Wetland Park last February.

Andrew Zaloumis, chief executive of the iSimangaliso Wetland Authority, said Burger’s plane wheels touched the beach six kilometres south of Sodwana Bay before he was able to attain height again.

Magistrate M. de Klerk found Burger guilty of transgressing the Conservation Areas Act and sentenced him to a fine of R12 000 or 12 months in prison, with R10 000 or 10 months suspended for five years.

Burger paid the fine.

The negative impact aircraft and helicopters have on endangered bird and animal species has been well documented worldwide, said Ian Rushworth, ecological and advice co-ordinator of Ezemvelo.

In the 220 km-long iSimangaliso Park, there are 243 rare and endangered species. Aircraft can, for instance, ruin the whole breeding season of the pink-backed pelican, which only in this park in South Africa breeds in a colony.

Other birds such as storks are equally vulnerable, while planes could also disturb elephants and crocodiles when they’re breeding.

In the Drakensberg it is especially the endangered Cape vulture and bearded vulture that are vulnerable.

The minimum flight height above the iSimangaliso park is 1 250 m and in the Drakensberg park it is 729 m above the highest point in the park.

“The manner in which this matter was handled in court is encouraging. The number of complaints over low-flying planes has increased over the past few years, and legal matters have improved,” said Zaloumis.

“At the moment we’re warning pilots, but we will be starting to prosecute those who break the law,” said Rushworth of the Drakensberg.

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