A Seabird Seeker fles above spectators at the Skukuza Airport in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. The light observation aircraft provided by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation is equiped with highly sophisticated surveillance technology and will be used as a command platform in the fight against rhino poaching. Over 500 rhinos have already been killed in South Africa during this year alone, most of them in the Kruger National Park. 040512. Picture: Chris Collingridge 602

SHAUN SMILLIE

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The war on rhino poaching has a new eye in the sky – a two-seater reconnaissance plane fitted with some of the latest surveillance technology.

Its range will depend on how long the pilot’s bladder holds out.

The small Seeker Seabird will join the fight against rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park in the next few weeks. It is painted in a blue camouflage that makes it harder to see in the air.

It is hoped that the eyes of a spotter in the sky will help to defeat the rhino-killing surge by collecting intelligence.

The plane was unveiled yesterday at Skukuza Airport in the Kruger Park. It has been donated to Sanparks by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and the Paramount Group.

Foundation chairman Ivor Ichikowitz believes the Seeker Seabird will overcome many of the problems other fixed-wing aircraft experience in the war against poaching. One these is range and time in the air.

Ichikowitz said the Seeker Seabird was cheaper to fly and could remain in the sky for seven hours.

“The range is limited to the size of the pilot’s bladder.”

The plane was able to fly high with minimum noise and was to be fitted with a FLIR Ball [Forward Looking Infrared] camera, which uses thermal imaging technology and can pick up the heat signature of poacher.

The Paramount Group, which manufactures defence systems, will kit out the plane with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment.

The plane will be able to operate both night and day and could also be used as a command platform where a spotter in the air could co-ordinate rangers pursuing poachers on the ground.

The plane is manufactured in Australia, where it is used on wildlife patrols. Defence forces around the world use the plane for patrolling purposes.

Yesterday, Sanparks chief executive David Mabunda welcomed the new addition to his arsenal.

He said 588 rhinos had been killed in South Africa this year – 364 of them in Kruger.

The Seeker Seabird might also be used in other national parks in South Africa affected by rhino poaching.