Wednesday, February 22, 2012

‘Shoot rhino poachers from the air’

‘Shoot rhino poachers from the air’
February 23 2012 at 07:40am
By Colleen Dardagan

Businessman Vincent Christoforous and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife head Bandile Mkhize show off the Sikorski 300 helicopter that Christoforous gave to the Imfolozi Game Reserve to fight rhino poaching from the air. Picture: Colleen Dardagan

South Africa’s war against rhino poaching will be won from the air.

A frail Ian Player, 85, who was instrumental in saving the white rhino from extinction in the 1960s, told a gathering at Durban’s Virginia Airport on Wednesday that, like the Libyan war where Britain and France used air support to turn the tide for the rebels fighting on the ground, so should the “war” against rhino poaching be fought in SA.

“If we say this is a war, and it is, then it makes sense we need support from the air,” he said.

Player, together with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife CEO Bandile Mkhize and businessman Vincent Christoforous, was announcing the success of daily helicopter patrols over the Imfolozi Game Reserve over the past five months in turning the tide against escalating rhino deaths in the park.

Christoforous, who heads Durban’s King Shaka Aviation, gave a Sikorski 300 helicopter, pilots and R500 000 in funding for the trial. But his resources were not unlimited and now that the project had proven the success of the helicopter patrols, Christoforous was calling on corporate business to step in to assist.

“It is important we roll this out now across the province. We are asking for R4 million to R5m from corporates to keep the programme going and to help us roll out more patrols in private and public game reserves over the next two years.”

Dr. Ian Player announced the success of helicopter patrols in the Umfolozi Game Reserve, in KZN, at a media briefing on Wednesday. Picture: Colleen Dardagan

He believed the project had merit for big business because of the profile and extent of exposure rhino poaching was attracting across the world.

The head of the anti-poaching unit at Imfolozi, Lawrence Munro, said the air patrols had “saved” the lives of at least six rhinos. “From October to December 2010, seven rhino were killed in the reserve, whereas in the same period last year, when the helicopter was in operation, only one was lost. Our systems were exactly the same as the previous year, except now we added the helicopter, which patrols every day and responds immediately to calls from our rangers on the ground,” he said.

Munro said poachers had reportedly given the helicopter a nickname. “It’s Isiqgila or knobkierie. They don’t like it,” he said.

However, the owners of private reserves that border the Imfolozi Park expressed concern as poachers had moved operations to their properties.

David Attenborough said that he was spending at least R200 000 a month on security for his rhinos. “What we have to talk about is how our security companies can link up with the helicopter project,” he said.

Munro said incidences of after-dark poaching had also increased because of the daily patrols. “But that means I can now use my full complement of staff at night,” he said. - The Mercury

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