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Helicopters from Hell

Helicopers from hell

The rhino poaching scourge presently underway across South Africa continues: this past week there were two incidents involving helicopters flying without flight plans.

One case occurred in the Tugela Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, where a female white rhino had her horns taken off with a chainsaw. Miraculously, the rhino survived after being found by rangers and treated by veterinary staff. Rangers strongly suspect a helicopter was used and that the cow’s four-week old calf was stolen after the attack and flown out from the reserve.

In the other incident, a possible rhino poaching attack was thwarted when a helicopter with concealed registration numbers (they had been blocked out with adhesive tape) was photographed taking off from a farm in Thabazimbi. The owners of the farm immediately spread the news and the photograph, and a few hours later a helicopter was grounded at Lanseria airport just outside Johannesburg.

Given these latest events, and further reports of helicopters being used in other rhino poaching incidents over the last few months, there is absolutely no doubt that the authorities are dealing with extremely well-organised syndicates. And as I have mentioned in the past, I suspect that senior *or* even leading individuals from the game ranging industry, veterinary profession and possibly the state and/*or* provincial wildlife authorities must be involved. Now we can add the aviation industry, most notably owners and pilots of private helicopters.

The statistics for the year to date stand at almost 120 rhino killed for their horns. I believe the time has come for government and provincial authorities to consider moving all rhino located in the smaller or poorly protected parks and reserves to the larger well-protected ones. This has been done successfully in Zimbabwe, Namibia and other countries further north, and will allow the authorities time to come up with a concerted action plan on how to tackle poaching. At the moment, the plan is not working.

Time and Tide
Ian Michler

Ian has spent the last 24 years working as a specialist guide, photo-journalist and consultant across Africa, including a stint of 13 years based in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. When not guiding, he writes predominately for Africa Geographic covering topics on conservation, wildlife management, ecotourism, and the environment, and has been writing his popular monthly column since 2001. Ian is also the author and photographer of seven natural history and travel books on Africa, and is a past winner of the bird category in the Agfa Wildlife photographic competition (1997). He has also worked as a researcher and field coordinator on various natural history television documentaries for international broadcasters and as a consultant on ecotourism to various private sector and government agencies. Prior to his life in the wilderness, he spent eight years practicing as a stockbroker in Cape Town and Johannesburg.