The South African National Parks (SANParks) has added another rotary-winged aircraft to the arsenal of weapons it is using to combat rhino poaching, particularly in its flagship Kruger National Park.
The helicopter, an Airbus Helicopters AS-250B3e, was officially handed over to SANParks by Airbus Helicopters South Africa on Thursday and will, according to board chairman Kuseni Dlamini “further boost Kruger’s air mobility” in anti- and counter-poaching operations.
The newest addition to the park’s aircraft fleet is the second of its type and like the first AS-350 was acquired using funds made available by the Howard G Buffet Foundation.
Last year the American philanthropist made a grant of more than R254 million to SANParks for use in combatting rhino poaching. The first AS-350 arrived in Skukuza in September last year.
The second helicopter was acquired using an additional R37.7 million from the same funding source. It is also configured for night flying and will, according to Dlamini, “improve our response time in dealing with contacts and other incidents in the park”.
“This helicopter will further assist in quick tactical response particularly at night where we have been lacking due to limited resources and it is only proper to thank the Howard G Buffet Foundation for bringing this much needed resource to our fight of curbing poaching.”
With only one release of rhino kills information this year – in January when the Department of Environment Affairs said 49 animals had been killed, 29 of them in Kruger – no further statistics have yet been made public. Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa reportedly told a Parliamentary portfolio committee meeting earlier this month that rhino kill statistics would “probably” only be issued once every three or four months.
Dlamini said as an integral part of the current strategy to combat rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park, SANParks is applying and evaluating various technologies which include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). “This aims at investigating the effectiveness of various UAV technologies as instruments in rhino protection efforts under a range of operational conditions.”
According to him the UAV project will run for a year “and by the end of the project we will have a lot of information about the use of available technology in anti-poaching operations and be able to make informed decisions on what is best for our environment”.
The testing of UAV technology in Kruger is implemented as one component of a suite of anti-poaching initiatives supported by the Rhino Protection Programme (RPP). The RPP is a collaborative effort between the Department of Environment Affairs, SANParks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF).