Rhinos in the Kruger Park are the victims of an escalating poaching war; official statistics say more than 360 have been killed this year alone. Aerial surveillance is one of the most effective tools game rangers have against the poachers – thanks to a light aircraft funded by Vox Telecom and other donors.
The Kruger National Park is home to between 9 000 and 12 000 white rhinos – more than 60% of South Africa's entire white rhino population – as well as between 580 and 650 of the highly endangered black rhino species. Roughly 5.5% of the park's rhino population is lost every year due to poaching – about two per day – and more than 70% of the rhinos poached in South Africa every year are killed in the park itself.
"The Kruger National Park covers an area of almost 19 633 square kilometres – that's roughly the size of Israel," notes Bryn Pyne-James, senior general manager for SANParks fundraising. "Protecting an area that large against poachers, with ground-based vehicles alone, is impossible, but with air support, we have a chance."
Efforts to bring aerial support to the Kruger National Park stem back to the 1980s, said ranger Steven Whitfield, but it wasn't until 2005 that they were able to obtain a plane light and strong enough to meet their needs. "We initially used a four-cylinder Bantam light aircraft, which we traded up for a six-cylinder Bantam," Whitfield explains. "It proved to be a very important anti-poaching tool. Rangers must be able to spot carcasses and pin down the culprits quickly to effectively combat poaching. Poachers tend to concentrate on one area at a time, often killing several rhino during a single incursion into the park. If we can find them quickly and use the aircraft to force them into hiding or slow them down, ground-based rangers have a chance to catch up. The plane has massive deterrent value." More....