Durban - Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has given the green light for a R4-million sponsorship of two anti-rhino poaching helicopters as well as securing two fixed-wing aircraft to bolster the fight against the onslaught of rhino poaching in KZN.
While the contract is signed for one year, there is every hope that this will continue for the next two years. The funding also includes two full-time pilots.
The money allows for the upgrading of one helicopter, sourced from King Shaka Aviation, to a bigger one that will cover an expanded area around Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP).
The Robinson R44, a 4-seater, will now patrol a broader area, including the Amakhosini/Opathe reserves outside Ulundi as part of its general surveillance operation.
The previous chopper at HiP was only a 2-seater. As King Shaka Aviation’s operations Manager Justin Louw said, the faster and bigger Robinson R44 can carry three anti-poaching field rangers and in doing so immeasurably improve on reaction times and engagement effectiveness.
The other helicopter (secured from BAC Aviation) will operate in the north-eastern section of the province covering a region covering the iSimangaliso World Heritage Park, Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park as well as servicing private game farms.
“This is our statement of real intent. We long-since motivated for additional funds to fight this war and great thanks must go to our provincial government that came up with a total of some R48-million earlier this year. We anticipate this R4-million will be extended for two years,” said Musa Mntambo, Ezemvelo’s communications spokesman.
Last September, East Coast Radio, in partnership with the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation, raised more than R600 000 in the space of 24 hours in donations and pledges for KZN Rhino Watch from corporates, schools and individuals. This then meant that anti-rhino poaching aerial patrols, having stalled for a year, could be resumed at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
“Absolutely fabulous! This shows incredible commitment from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife,” said Yvette Taylor, director of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation.
She said it was the best “thank-you” that the public and private business could receive after their generous, donations towards “KZN Rhino Watch”.
“Do people know how encouraging it is to have this anti-rhino poaching programme now funded for a lengthy period of time? Just that little peace of mind? Now we can really focus on the job at hand,” she said.
East Coast Radio’s KZN Rhino Watch co-ordinator, Diane Macpherson was overjoyed.
“This is absolutely superb! Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has really come to the party; not just in securing the necessary funding, but to a heightened value that offers a serious deterrent to anti-rhino poaching. What a fillip to all those people who gave so generously to get this helicopter project up and going again. We need every tool we can get in this fight against the poachers.”
These two KZN Rhino Watch helicopters have also been incorporated into a broader air support service established by the Project Rhino initiative. Called ZAP-Wing, this is being co-ordinated by Ezemvelo’s Rhino Operations Unit Manager, Lawrence Munroe.
It consists of two fixed wing aircraft that further enhances the “eyes-in-the-sky” operation and will provide further support for field rangers on the ground.
East Coast Radio still has about R325 000 in the KZN Rhino Watch bank.
“Pledges are still coming in. And this reserve allows us to top-up flying hours, should the 30 hours a month Ezemvelo is funding be exhausted.” - Daily News