About R38 million of the massive R225 million made available for anti- and counter-poaching operations in South African national parks has gone to acquisition of a new Airbus helicopter.
The AS350 B3E rotary-winged aircraft was unveiled in the Kruger National Park earlier this week. SANParks spokesman Rey Thakhuli said the aircraft was “a massive acquisition” for the world famous game reserve which bears the brunt of rhino poaching efforts, mainly from Mozambicans.
Specially fitted equipment allows the chopper to be used at night and provide real-time intelligence to ranger and military patrols on the ground.
“The new helicopter will not only be an asset when it comes to tracking poachers but it will also carry out other tasks during night flights,” Thakhuli is reported as saying by Afrikaans daily Beeld.
The newest addition to the Kruger airwing means the park now has three helicopters, one fixed wing aircraft and a pair of Bantam microlights to assist in anti- and counter-poaching operations.
The aerial power available to SANParks special operations boss, retired army general Johan Jooste, is further boosted by a Denel Seeker UAV and two aircraft – one fixed wing and the other rotary-winged - made available by the Paramount Group.
In March this year American philanthropist Howard Buffet donated R225 million over a three year period to the national conservation agency to be used exclusively in efforts to stop rhino poaching.
At that time Thakhuli said at least some of the “welcome” extra funding would go to creating an intensive protection zone (IPZ) incorporating sophisticated detection and tracking equipment; infrastructure on the ground; elite canine units; highly trained ranger teams and improved intelligence gathering and observation and surveillance systems.
Apart from combatting rhino poaching the Buffet funding will also be used to test anti-poaching tactics that can be applied elsewhere in Africa where rhinos are also under threat.