Rhino poaching is big business in southern Africa, particular South Africa where the situation has reached crisis stakes. It’s so bad that there are fears the rhino – particularly the black rhino – will soon become extinct! The greatest and most encouraging hope comes from initiatives that fight poachers from the air – in helicopters on the front line.
The most recent initiative is Rhino 911 founded last year (2016) by Fred Hees, the South African-born president of BBM Inc in Nevada, a company that specializes in life support and defense systems. They use a Bell 407GT that is equipped with a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) system that enables the pilot, Nico Jacobs, to work at night. He has also been trained and certified in the US to fly the Bell helicopter with night vision goggles. He responds to poaching calls and spends 20-25 hours every month flying poaching missions.
Rhino Air is another initiative founded in the US. It was launched after Eric Rudzinski, CEO of Chicago-based Rotorzen Helicopters in 2015 had met with South African-based park rangers trying to catch poachers. He identified helicopters as a tool pilots could use to identify the position of poachers using FLIR systems and night vision, and guide the rangers who were working on the ground.
Rhino Air uses two helicopters, one of which is an Aerospatiale Gazelle.
Other helicopter initiatives operate in other parts of southern Africa, including Kenya where Lewa Wildlife Conservancy uses an MD 530 imported from Arizona that was modified for the work it does. The area covered is vast and the helicopter is critical to their anti-poaching efforts.
In Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa’s largest “game reserve”, four pilots patrol the two million hectare area with two AS350 B3 and two Airbus H125 helicopters. These guys see themselves as air rangers because they are usually deployed when poachers have been spotted and often carry out medevac roles. The helis are protected with bulletproof floors and the crew has advanced medical training so they don’t have to rely on outside medical help. On the ground, the park rangers use tracker dogs and they are armed.
The Impact of Rhino Poaching
There is no doubt that when it comes to rhino poaching South Africa is the hardest hit country on the continent. The statistics have increased dramatically since 2007 when only 13 rhinos were reportedly killed for their horns.
South African Government stats are not up-to-date but they do show increases in poaching between 2010 and 2012, with KNP suffering the most hits:
- KNP 146 (2010), 252 (2011), 362 (2012)
- SA 333 (2010), 448 (2011), 588 (2012)
Reportedly, these figures continued to rise for the next two years and then in 2015 dropped just a little to 1,175 – having pretty well doubled since 2012. The number poached across the southern African continent was 1,338 which was the highest ever.
Since 2008 the International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that more than 5,940 rhinos have been killed.
Of course, the question so many people ask is, Why? The answer is bizarre and almost impossible to comprehend. In some countries, primarily China, powdered rhino horn is said to be a cure for just about everything from impotence and cancer to fever and hangovers. And people pay close to $30,000 per lb to get it.
How Helicopters Have Helped Poaching Initiatives
Operating as a very effective eye in the sky helicopters, and the dedicated pilots that fly them, are playing a vital role in the fight against rhino poaching. They track possible poachers, inform those on the ground where they are and what they are doing, and when there is an incident often pick up injured humans and animals.
As an example, Rhino Air provides the craft, the fuel, helicopter parts, as well as the mechanics that carry out helicopter parts service, and the pilots who have been trained to do dangerous night flying.
While South Africa continues to fight an ongoing battle, there are success stories, and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy near Nairobi in Kenya is one of them. In the two years between 2010 and 2012, this area (which just happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site) had 17 rhino poached. Since the helicopters started patrolling they haven’t lost another rhino. The number of elephant poached has also dropped dramatically.
Prime Industries Keeping Helicopters Safe in the Air
Whether helicopters are used to combat rhino poaching, to transport first responders, to fulfill commercial deliveries, or take part in combat of some kind, they must be properly serviced and maintained.
Wherever in the world you are Prime Industries can assist with helicopter parts service and components. We also have factory refurbished helicopter parts. Have a look at our current inventory or call to see if we can find what you need.