The Paramount Group has donated a Gazelle helicopter to SANParks to fight rhino poachers in the Kruger national park, South Africa’s largest game reserve.
The helicopter was donated by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation in association with Paramount, South Africa’s largest private aerospace and defence group, and is part of a wider effort by the Foundation to stop South Africa’s poaching scourge.
The Gazelle will be based in Phalaborwa and will be used over the northern Kruger National Park, Paramount said in a statement today, which added that the aircraft was displayed at the Letaba Shooting Range during an event attended by the Rangers Corp leadership led by Officer Commanding, Major General (ret) Johan Jooste and his colleagues.
The Gazelle was configured for the anti-poaching role by Paramount’s Advanced Technology Division. Formerly known as Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE), the company acquired a number of Gazelles for upgrade and modification.
Paramount said the Gazelle will bring the advantages of a light attack helicopter to the aid of SANParks Anti-Poaching operations the minute it takes to the air. The helicopter has a maximum airspeed of 310km/h, a range of 670 km and service ceiling of 5 000 meters.
Ivor Ichikowitz, Chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and founder of the Paramount Group, said that, “During wartime, the strategic advantage always belongs to the force that has superior airpower. Essentially, although this is a unique ‘warzone’, the Gazelle will strengthen SANParks’s existing forces and bring this element to the Kruger National Park.
“A critical part of this helicopter’s capabilities is its speed and the fact that the Gazelle has a night vision capable cockpit – part of our contribution is to the training of the pilots to be able to fly at night thereby fundamentally taking the war directly to the poachers.
“With the Gazelle now part of the SANParks Anti-Poaching operations we hope that the fight for the rhino will reach a tipping point in 2014. I want to reiterate what I said this time last year, we will not stand by and watch our rhinos be slaughtered and are sick and tired of unscrupulous criminals taking advantage of our natural heritage.”
The Ichikowitz Family Foundation has made other contributions to the fight against poaching, and previously donated a Seeker MK II surveillance aircraft to SANParks, which has been flying in the Kruger National Park since December 2012.
“The Ichikowitz Family Foundation understand our needs, the Gazelle and Seeker plane are just part of their greater involvement which has included provision of fuel, pilots, specialised training and operational capacity,” said the Chief Executive Officer of SANParks, Dr David Mabunda.
He thanked other private sector partners that are raising money to help in the fight against rhino poaching, including the Bavaria initiative, the Honorary Rangers and Unitrans Volkswagen amongst others. Mabunda emphasised the importance of partnerships and the difference they have made since the escalation of rhino poaching in the KNP.
Speaking on the rhino population in the KNP, Mabunda outlined the results of a census taken a few months ago, saying despite the poaching onslaught, the 2013 rhino census in Kruger NP estimated that there are between 8400 and 9600 white rhinos.
The census took three weeks to complete in September, making use of three helicopters with a total of 220 flight hours. The bottom line is that escalating poaching, counteracted by increased anti-poaching operations, has resulted in relatively stable rhino numbers in Kruger since 2008. “We are certain that without intense anti-poaching operations, Kruger’s rhino population would have begun significantly declining by now,” he said.
The Kruger park is the hardest hit by rhino poachers, losing 548 of the animals this year. A total of 891 rhinos have been killed across the country in 2013, 223 more than last year.
Ichikowitz said his Foundation will make other contributions to the fight against poaching including further training of rangers and, next year, the rolling out of a canine programme together with Paramount and SANParks to provide tracker dogs.
State owned defence conglomerate Denel is also assisting the Kruger National Park fight poachers, deploying a Denel Dynamics Seeker unmanned aerial vehicle and support crew to Kruger.
Regarding the Army, both full-time and Reserve Force units have been deployed in Kruger as part of the national border protection initiative Operation Corona since 2010.