By Cynthia Walley
African Parks’ efforts to resolve the poaching crisis in Garamba National Park have been bolstered by a $2 million grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation (HGBF), a private foundation in the United States.
The funding was used to purchase a the Eurocopter (Airbus) AS 350 B3 model helicopter, designed to accommodate a pilot plus five rangers with sufficient weapons and equipment for a 10-day patrol.
It is equipped with night vision capabilities and has been fully-fitted for African Parks’ law enforcement operations to implement a variety of dedicated anti-poaching and support initiatives. These include:
- show-of-force operations,
- the rapid deployment of anti-poaching rangers,
- surveillance flights, the transportation of tracker teams in follow-up operations,
- the gathering of information on unauthorised aircraft flying over parks,
- the drop-off of supplies to ground units and the evacuation of ranger casualties.
In addition, the helicopter will be used for game counts, game translocations, the immobilisation of game for collaring and for lifting infrastructure components. African Parks has also appointed a full-time pilot with experience in counter-poaching tactics who has started in his role.
The purchase follows a test-of-concept phase that made use of a charter helicopter in law enforcement efforts in the park during October, November and December, resulting in a marked decrease in elephant-poaching numbers during those months.
Elephant-poaching by well-armed, criminal groups (at least one of which is poaching from a military helicopter), by the Lord’s Resistance Army, and by local, armed groups reached unprecedented levels during 2014.
Howard G Buffett explained, “Our support for African Parks’ efforts in Garamba National Park is linked to our broader interests and more significant investments to mitigate conflict in eastern DRC and Africa’s Great Lakes regions. There is a clear link between poaching and the financial resources that fuel conflict so our hope is that this support will help curtail the negative forces that create instability and increase human suffering.”
Peter Fearnhead from African Park said,: “We sincerely thank the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for the funding which has enabled us to purchase the helicopter. We also appreciate the personal interest demonstrated by philanthropist, Howard Buffet, in our poaching challenges and his support for our strategic initiatives to curtail and prevent the rampant slaughter of elephants and other species in Garamba.
As a conservation organisation we are not in the business of fighting guerrilla armies, rogue military units or criminal groups but when their activities threaten the survival of the protected areas for which we are responsible, we are compelled to act. While ‘boots-on-the-ground’ units and tactics remain the cornerstone of our wildlife protection strategy, it is widely acknowledged by law enforcement experts that the most effective force-multiplier is a personnel-carrying, night-capable helicopter.”