Eye in the sky to detect poachers

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iol scitech dec 5 Seeker Seabird

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A Seabird Seeker taxies at the Skukuza Airport in the Kruger National Park. Picture: Chris Collingridge

Kruger Park - The battle against rhino poaching received a reinforcement on Tuesday in the form of a state-of-the-art surveillance aircraft donated to SA National Parks (SANParks).

The specially outfitted Seeker Seabird was donated by the Ichowitz Family Foundation and the Paramount Group.

“This aircraft is a starting point,” said the foundation's chairman Ivo Ichowitz.

“We’re going to need to significantly bolster our capability, but also get a message to the organised crime syndicates that we are serious about this.”

Ichowitz said the plane was able to fly slowly and had surveillance capability in the form of a camera fitted to its body. It could also accommodate a human spotter.

He said it had several advantages over a helicopter, including being less expensive to fly, quieter and having a longer range.

“It does a lot of the work of a helicopter, but is very quiet... people on the ground don’t know the aircraft is around until it's right over their heads.

“Quite frankly, the range of the plane is limited only by the size of the pilot’s bladder.”

Ichowitz declined to state exactly how much the plane cost, but said it and its support systems amounted to “tens of millions” of rand.

He and Kruger National Park managing executive Abe Sibiya said the plane was only a part of the fight against rhino poaching.

“It's important that we view today’s initiative as one option available to us in this war,” said Sibiya.

“This is not a war that’s going to end today or tomorrow, we are in this for the long haul.”

Sibiya said the park had already lost 374 rhinos this year and that 62 poachers had been arrested within its boundaries. In all, 588 rhino have been killed in South Africa this year.

SANParks CEO David Mabunda said the park represented a “critical mass” in rhino poaching.

“Not only is the Kruger National Park home to the largest population of rhinos in the world, this national park also remains the hardest hit by poaching.”

He said the park had lost 760 of the 1369 rhino killed since January 2010. - Sapa

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