KwaZulu-Natal’s embattled game reserves have received a welcome boost to their rhino anti-poaching efforts with the launch of Project Rhino KZN’s aerial surveillance project, which assisted in the arrest of three rhino poachers on the 6th of December 2012.
More than 10 private and state-owned game reserves in the northern KZN region will benefit from the Zululand Anti-Poaching Wing (ZAP-Wing), which consists of a fully funded Cheetah aircraft and dedicated pilot, access to a BAC-owned helicopter for emergencies and a core group of three additional pilots from the Project Rhino KZN association. The project has been 10 months in the making and is a collaboration between private game reserves, leading conservation NGOs and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
The Cheetah began flying daily patrols last week. “60 rhino have been poached in Zululand this year – almost double last year’s figure,” said Dr Jacques Flamand of the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project who sourced funds for the aircraft’s purchase. “With this surge in poaching, it was easy for us to justify buying another aircraft as the first one had demonstrated its usefulness in monitoring rhinos and in assuring their security. The Cheetah’s addition to the ZAP-Wing will provide more eyes in the sky and, I trust, prove effective in Zululand’s anti–poaching drive. I am really excited and hopeful.”
Funding for the three-year employment of a dedicated ZAP-Wing pilot was a collaborative effort between the Wildlands Conservation Trust and the African Conservation Trust’s Skydive for Rhinos campaign. “Being one of the founding members of Project Rhino KZN in September last year, it is a massive achievement to see the launch of the Air Wing into northern Zululand, after several months of dedicated fundraising and assessments of what will actually make a difference,” said Kevin McCann from Wildlands. “We know that aerial support in the key rhino properties in northern Zululand is going to make a significant difference to halt the dramatic increase in Rhino poaching in KZN, and we acknowledge those that have played a hand in making this happen. One of these organisations is ‘Rhino Army,’ a merchandise partner who have contributed over R150 000 towards making this project a success.”
The ZAP-Wing pilot has also flown helicopter assistance for three joint anti-poaching operations recently; the latest being last Wednesday which resulted in one poacher being shot dead and three arrested before any rhino could be attacked at a private game reserve.
Simon Naylor of the Zululand Wildlife Security Initiative expressed his relief at the launch saying, “Project Rhino KZN’s Cheetah has added another effective tool available to Zululand private and community game reserves in their fight against rhino poaching. The threat to our rhino is increasing every day, so the introduction of cost effective aerial patrols will allow large areas to be covered for monitoring, routine patrols, information gathering and possibly reaction. Encompassing a number of private game reserves and community reserves, this co-ordinated regional aerial effort will, I firmly believe, act as a deterrent and effective tool to combat this scourge.”
Lawrence Munro, Wildlife Investigations Officer for Zululand who is coordinating the project says that ZAP-Wing will provide ground surveillance from an aerial platform, to reduce wildlife poaching with a specific focus on rhino. “Creating a multi-pronged approach to combating rhino poachers is the overall goal, with the aircraft serving to augment and assist ground-based anti-poaching teams when they are deployed on active duty and in volatile situations,” he stated.
A second light aircraft – Ezemvelo’s Bantam – has also been incorporated into the ZAP-Wing project to provide aerial surveillance for state-owned reserves in the region. Regular aerial patrols, directed by coordinated intelligence will form the basis of the ZAP-Wing surveillance function. The core group of dedicated pilots will ensure fast and efficient reaction to rhino security threats in private, state and community reserves alike.