The Kruger National Park’s counter-poaching specialists now have an additional base outside the park from which to operate air sorties against rhino and other wildlife poachers.
Last week regional feeder airline SA Airlink handed over a new hangar at Phalaborwa Airport to national conservation agency SA National Parks (SANParks). The hangar will house aircraft, both fixed and rotary-winged, that are deployed on anti- and counter-poaching operations in the northern parts of Kruger.
The hangar is a new one and was built by Airlink. It and the land it is on have been donated to SANParks.
SANParks chief executive Fundisile Mketeni said the hangar would assist Kruger’s air wing in cutting the response time to sightings and other suspicious incidents in the northern section of the park by at least an hour.
“This is important in our anti-poaching drive as it means the luxury of time will not be on the side of the poachers,” he said, adding South Africans owed it to their forefathers and future generations to preserve the country’s natural heritage, including the largest population of white rhino in the world.
Airlink chief executive Rodger Foster said the hangar was built in response to a call for assistance from SANParks honorary rangers.
“We responded positively because the relationship between ourselves and Kruger is important on a business level and to promote tourism in the area,” he said.
The hangar is currently home to two light aircraft and a helicopter in the SANParks fleet that are used extensively in counter-poaching operations.
In February an oversight visit to Kruger by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police was told the chances of catching rhino poachers were “slim” by senior Kruger management. This is despite of intensive patrolling with improved high-tech equipment done by rangers and soldiers as well as aerial surveillance provided by light aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The Department of Environment Affairs is no longer issuing monthly kill statistics for rhinos but unofficial records maintained by conservation NGOs indicate 595 rhinos had been killed by June 30 this year. The majority of these were killed in Kruger.
The day prior to SANParks officially taking ownership of the new hangar, the helicopter housed there responded to a poaching incident, flying a poaching reaction team to a site outside Kruger. This speedy reaction saw a suspect arrested and ivory recovered.