Rhinos in the Kruger Park are the victims of an escalating poaching war in which 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 2 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 stems back to 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 4-cylinder Bantam light aircraft, which we traded up for a 6-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 to 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....