South African National Parks (SANParks) has announced that it has turned to skyborne thermal imaging technologies in its battle against rhinoceros poaching, with poached rhinos estimated to hit 650 this year.
The new initiative, announced today, has been launched in partnership with the Ichikowitz Family Foundation.
The project will see specialist reconnaissance aircraft – the Seeker Seabird – take to the skies above Kruger National Park, with on board state-of-the-art aerial surveillance technology known as the FLIR Ball infrared detector, which will improve rangers’ visual surveillance efforts and minimise the ability of poachers to hide within the park.
The country has witnessed a spike in rhino poaching over the course of 2012 – with 598 animals killed by poachers this year to date and estimates suggesting the figure will rise to 650 rhino fatalities before the year is out. 364 of the killings happened in Kruger National Park.
Speaking at an unveiling event for the Seeker Seabird aircraft today, Ivor Ichikowitz, Chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation 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.
“Advanced visual reconnaissance and surveillance will provide game reserve rangers with robust intelligence in their tireless mission to confront poachers.”
Of the FLIR Ball technology, he added: “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.”
David Mabunda, CEO of SANParks commented on the increasing poaching crisis affecting South Africa’s wildlife.
“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 it accounts for 40% of the world’s rhino population,” he explained. “Enough is enough; 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. We will find the right solutions and fight this war.”
South African authorities have been ramping up efforts to combat rhino poaching in recent years as the number of animal fatalities increases across the country.
By the end of November this year, 246 arrests had been made with regard to rhino poaching. This month a magistrate at Kempton Park Magistrate Court handed down a 40-year sentence to a confessed rhino trader and smuggler in a move which sees the legal system tighten its stance on criminals offending against South Africa’s wildlife.