Efforts to combat rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park were bolstered recently as the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and South African National Parks (SANParks) launched a new, state-of-the-art aerial surveillance solution to save South Africa's rhinos.
The unique specialist reconnaissance aircraft, The Seeker Seabird, incorporating highly sophisticated surveillance technology, was unveiled at Skukuza airport in the Kruger National Park (KNP). The unveiling was part of an announcement of a strategic cooperation between the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and SANParks which will see the Foundation providing SANParks with a number of solutions from the Paramount Group, an associated entity.
Speaking at the unveiling, Dr. David Mabunda, CEO of SANParks said: "We anticipate that by the end of this calendar year we will have lost about 650 rhinos throughout South Africa, 400 in the Kruger National Park. To date 598 rhinos have been lost to poaching, 364 in the KNP alone. South Africa is home to more than 80% of the world's rhinos, while the KNP is home to about 60% of South Africa's rhinos and accounts for 40% of the world's rhino population. While the combination of criminally slaughtered rhinos and natural mortalities has not reached a point of negative growth, we are seeing definite signs of a decrease in growth numbers.
Engaging with private sector
"The mindless slaughter of rhinos in the wild has called for a multi-pronged strategy. We are actively enlisting and broadening our engagement with the private sector to protect and conserve wildlife. The strategy is to reach out to a new set of stakeholders that would complement and fundamentally strengthen and provide the necessary intelligence to our existing efforts," Mabunda said.
"Our world-class electronic systems technology brings expert navigation and surveillance solutions to the fore to help in the search for suspected rhino poachers throughout the Kruger National Park," Ivor Ichikowitz, chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and executive chairman of Africa's largest privately held defence and aerospace company, Paramount Group said. "Advanced visual reconnaissance and surveillance will provide game reserve rangers with robust intelligence in their tireless mission to confront poachers.
"We will equip the Seeker Seabird with a FLIR Ball infra-red detector. This thermal imaging technology will deliver more enhanced and powerful observation capability to the Kruger National Park's rangers making it very difficult for poachers to hide. The plane demonstrates high degree of flexibility in terms of utilisation, use of operation and reliability. It is capable of flying at high altitude and at slow speeds with 270 degrees visibility. It can be forward positioned on short dirt strips and requires very limited logistical support," Ichikowitz added.
Attitudes are changing
"Attitudes about the importance of wildlife in South Africa are changing. The grim realities of environmental crimes committed against wildlife and rhino's in particular are being recognised with calls for tougher law enforcement and penalties. Initiatives like these are critical to motivate potential consumers to quell demand for wildlife-based products by appealing to their pro-environment instincts."
"SANParks is entrusted to protect our natural heritage. They are at the forefront of saving the rhino," said Ichikowitz. "Paramount Group is in the business of developing state of the art defence technology, technology which, through the Family Foundation, we intend placing in SANParks hands in the fight against poachers."