More UAVs for rhino counter-poaching duty


Part of a more than R230 million foreign grant to boost capacity in South Africa’s ongoing battle against rhino poaching will go to “technology applications, including drones,” according to Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.

The grant, from the Dutch and Swedish Postcode Lotteries, totals R232.2 million and its arrival in South Africa was facilitated by the Stellenbosch-headquartered Peace Parks Foundation.

Molewa said the donation was the single largest contribution made by the private sector to combat rhino poaching and wildlife crime. The majority of it will be spent on enhancing existing efforts to protect rhino in South Africa, home to 83% of the continent’s wild rhino population.

This would see “intelligence gathering and technology applications such as conservation drones and other specialist equipment” put into the field to cut the continuing slaughter of rhinos for their horns.

At present the Kruger National Park’s counter-poaching operations are assisted in their tasks by a single UAV, a Seeker II supplied by Denel Dynamics. While details of its utilisation have not been made public, defenceWeb has been informed the UAV operates at night with its thermal and other specialist equipment supplying real-time imagery to assist patrols on the ground.

Daytime aerial surveillance is provided by SANParks fixed and rotary-winged aircraft supported by SA Air Force helicopters, normally an Agusta A109 light utility rotorcraft, and a pair of aircraft made available by the Ichikowitz Foundation. Late last year a Gazelle helicopter from the Paramount Group joined a Seabird Seeker Mk II in Kruger to boost the eyes in the sky searching for those intent on further decimating the rhino population in the iconic game reserve.

The additional technology and specialist equipment will assist in tracking and monitoring of suspected poachers and others involved in the rhino horn smuggling chain and will not be confined to Kruger alone.

Molewa said the KwaZulu-Natal conservation agency, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, would also be assisted in its counter-poaching activities thanks to the multi-million Rand grant.

In January poachers killed 63 rhino in Kruger, by far the majority of the 86 killed nationally to date this year.