Tuesday, May 31, 2011
South Africa: Anti-poaching war goes airborne
Two KwaZulu-Natal game rangers are taking to the sky in the war against rhino poaching.
Lawrence Munro and Dirk Swart, section rangers in Hlhuhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve, decided they would have to go back to school when they heard that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife had been offered a spotter plane to help track down rhino poachers.
Neither Munro nor Swart knew how to fly. So earlier this year they enrolled for flying lessons and yesterday afternoon the ranger-pilots landed at the Hluhluwe aerodrome at the controls of a new Bantam B22 microlight.
The aircraft – sponsored by the conservation groups WWF South Africa, Save the Rhino International, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hluhluwe and Imfolozi honorary wildlife officers – is powered by a three-litre, six-cylinder motor and has a flying range of about four hours.
Bheki Khoza, the executive director of Ezemvelo, said he was confident that the spotter plane would enable his staff to intensify the war against well-funded horn poaching syndicates. In the first five months of this year, poachers killed at least 160 rhinos across the country, 12 of them in KZN.
Munro said he had been trying to persuade Ezemvelo for more than 10 years of the need for aerial surveillance capacity in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, the cradle of rhino conservation in the country.
“Rhino poaching is nothing new, but over the years I knew that it was going to get worse because of the growth in value of rhino horns and criminal syndicates.The Bantam spotter is much cheaper to operate than a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft and easy to land on bush airstrips.”
Source: The Mercury