At least R45-million is needed annually for a new anti-rhino poaching initiative to win South Africa’s war against this scourge.
This emerged yesterday during the unveiling of the programme launched by Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife and its new private partner, King Shaka Aviation.
The successful endeavour known as the “secret helicopter trial programme” began five months ago and, according to Ezemvelo, is already bearing fruit.
Field rangers were able to keep poachers at bay, and are now calling for all game reserves to use helicopters.
Compared to the R200000 a month that private rhino owners pay for security, R45-million for helicopters at game reserves throughout South Africa was “cheap”, guests at the unveiling were told.
The pilot project was conducted at Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park after King Shaka Aviation donated a Sikorski 300 helicopter.
The helicopter was involved in 105 sorties in the reserve, found more than 28 illegal vehicles inside the park and dropped off field rangers who apprehended 10 armed poachers between October last year and this month.
The helicopter responded to 15 call-outs by Ezemvelo staff following tip-offs and signs of poaching.
The number of rhinos killed last year increased from 330 to 448, contributing to the total of 1 104 animals killed in the past 12 years.
In Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, 14 rhinos were poached in 2010 while eight were killed last year. Seven rhinos were killed between October and November in 2010, but since the introduction of the helicopter only one rhino was poached during the same period last year.
“Based on these trials, I believe the helicopter represents the most significant tool in the future battle against poaching. I am convinced that the best way to curb this scourge on our national heritage is to use the helicopter throughout the province,” said King Shaka Aviation CEO, Vincent Christoforous, yesterday.