Donated Bat Hawk aircraft to boost Kruger conservation efforts

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South African National Parks (SANParks) has taken delivery of four Bat Hawk surveillance aircraft that were donated by Anglo American Platinum. The aircraft will be used in the Kruger National Park to assist with conservation work.

SANParks said the aircraft were handed over on 3 November and will be used for surveillance, conservation and anti-poaching efforts. The sponsorship agreement of the aircraft is valued at over R3.8 million.

“The Kruger National Park (KNP), which spans over two million hectares of land and is divided in 22 sections, continues to face several operational challenges linked to animal poaching, the poisoning of animals as well as snaring. The four Bat Hawk aircraft, which are proudly assembled in South Africa, are an affordable and safe alternative to helicopters, and will go a long way in assisting with the Kruger’s conservation and anti-poaching efforts. Other benefits of the aircraft include its great visibility during adverse weather conditions and its light undercarriage which can easily manoeuvre through porous terrain,” SANParks stated.

Speaking at the handover event of the aircraft, Anglo American Platinum’s executive head of projects Prakashim Moodliar said, “Our donation of the Bat Hawk aircraft presents an important step for biodiversity and conservation at the Kruger National Park. As an organisation that is committed to re-imagining mining to improve people’s lives, Anglo American Platinum has always been clear that we cannot do this work alone, and that building a safer, cleaner and more sustainable future has to be founded on the collaboration and knowledge sharing that comes from partnering with likeminded organisations.”

The donation is in line with the healthy environment pillar of the organisation’s sustainable mine plan, which is aimed at maintaining a healthy environment by creating waterless, carbon-neutral operations as well as delivering positive biodiversity outcomes, a SANParks press release read.

Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment said: “Anglo Platinum joins a number of international and local companies and individuals who work with SANParks to protect our natural world and our threatened species. These ultralight aircraft will assist us in carrying out aerial patrols as well as monitoring and effectively managing the environment. As custodians of our fauna and flora, SANParks has limited resources at its disposal. It is therefore important to form partnerships to look after our country’s rich and varied biodiversity”.

She said that the iconic Kruger National Park has faced the brunt of rhino poaching over the last 15 years, and consequently, multiple biological and law enforcement interventions continue to be employed to fight the scourge of poaching, and wildlife crime in general. “This is a war of boots on the ground, as well a much more sophisticated operation to disrupt global trade networks. Our Department in cooperation with the provincial conservation authorities, SANParks, private rhino owners and the SAPS, has been focusing on a more proactive and integrated approach, which emphasises increasing situational awareness and sharing of information.”

She said that as a result of broad anti-poaching efforts, in the first six months of this year, 69 people were arrested in connection with rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking while four alleged rhino horn traffickers were arrested for trying to smuggle 56 pieces of rhino horn out of the country. A number of search and seizure operations have taken place countrywide, leading to the confiscation of 29 rhino horns.

The minister added that 51 people have been convicted this year for offences related to rhino poaching. The heaviest sentence handed down was 34 years imprisonment, while two Mpumalanga men were sentenced to 28 years behind bars for killing rhino and being in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition.

The Kruger National Park is familiar with the Bat Hawk and has been flying these aircraft for a number of years. They are the cheapest aircraft flown by SANParks, as the Bat Hawk costs around R500 000 to buy and uses around 12 litres an hour of ordinary petrol (mogas). By comparison, the Squirrels are the most expensive to operate, consuming several thousand rands’ worth of fuel an hour, for total operating costs of R12-15 000 an hour. The Bat Hawk is ideal for surveillance as it flies low and slow (often 200 feet above the ground), with excellent visibility. The Bat Hawk is favoured by parks for wildlife conservation for these reasons.

SANParks has a growing number of aircraft in its fleet. The Kruger National Park started out with two helicopters and now has four Squirrel single-engine helicopters (although one was badly damaged in January 2021), three Bat Hawk light sport aircraft (plus the four just delivered), a Cessna 206 and a Cessna 182. A Foxbat fixed wing aircraft was lost in a crash in February 2019 while chasing poachers.

The majority of SANParks air wing flights are in support of anti-poaching activities but other taskings include casualty evacuation, rescuing snared animals, game counting, slinging equipment and animals and tracking escaped animals.