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Media Release: Battle for SA's rhino takes to the air at 310km per hour

Date: 2013-11-28

The GAZELLE was donated by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation in association with Paramount, a leading African aerospace and defence group, and is part of an on-going capacity building partnership announced almost one year ago. The Foundation has previously donated a Seeker MKII Surveillance aeroplane, which has been operating in the KNP since December last year.

The GAZELLE has been purposefully configured by Paramount’s Advanced Technology Division, and will vastly increase areas that can be traversed and has additional equipment to increase aerial support.  It has a maximum airspeed of 310km/h, a range of 670km and service ceiling of 5000 meters.  The GAZELLE will bring the advantages of a light attack helicopter to the aid of SANParks Anti-Poaching operations the minute it takes to the air.

The Chief Executive Officer of SANParks, Dr David Mabunda welcomed this superior addition to the arsenal that is being deployed in the KNP.   “We are grateful to have patriotic partners like the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, who have unselfishly been behind SANParks, supporting us with resources regardless of cost. 

“The Ichikowitz Family Foundation understand our needs, the GAZELLE and Seeker plane are just part of their greater involvement which has included provision of fuel, pilots, specialised training and operational capacity.”

Ivor Ichikowitz, Chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and founder of the Paramount Group responded,  “During war time, the strategic advantage always belongs to the force that has superior airpower.  Essentially, although this is a unique “warzone”, the GAZELLE will strengthen SANParks existing forces and bring this element to the Kruger National Park.”

“A critical part of this helicopter’s capabilities is its speed and the fact that the GAZELLE has a night vision capable cockpit - part of our contribution is to the training of the pilots to be able to fly at night thereby fundamentally taking the war directly to the poachers.”

Mabunda thanked other private sector partners that are raising money to help in the fight against rhino poaching. He mentioned the Bavaria initiative, the Honorary Rangers and Unitrans Volkswagen amongst others. Mabunda emphasised the importance of partnerships and the difference they have made since the escalation of rhino poaching in the KNP.

Speaking on the rhino population in the KNP, Mabunda outlined the results of a census taken a few months ago, saying despite the poaching onslaught, the 2013 rhino census in Kruger NP estimated that there are between 8400 and 9600 white rhino. These numbers were estimated by SANParks scientists using a 40% block count survey method. 

The census took 3 weeks to complete in September, making use of 3 helicopters with a total of 220 flight hours. The bottom line is that escalating poaching, counteracted by increased anti-poaching operations, has resulted in relatively stable rhino numbers in Kruger since 2008.”We are certain that without intense anti-poaching operations, Kruger’s rhino population would have begun significantly declining by now” said Mabunda. 

Ichikowitz commented on this by saying that the Foundation salutes the work that SANParks is doing, the results they are achieving  and is committed to the partnership.

“With the GAZELLE now part of the SANParks Anti-Poaching operations we hope that the fight for the rhino will reach a tipping point in 2014.    I want to reiterate what I said this time last year, we will not stand by and watch our rhino’s be slaughtered and are sick and tired of  unscrupulous criminals taking advantage of our natural heritage.”

Ichikowitz went on to say that the Foundation will be making further investments and is working with SANParks to assist in further training of the current rangers on advanced bush tracking techniques, following the pilot project completed in Madikwe.  2014 will  also see  the rolling out a canine programme together with Paramount and SANParks to provide tracker dogs.

The Gazelle was part of a show of force by the conservation body as it took part in flyover demonstrations, showing of some of its unique hovering abilities. The helicopter will be based in Phalaborwa and will assist immensely with reaction time in the north of the KNP.

The event was held at Letaba Shooting Range and was attended by the Rangers Corp leadership led by Officer Commanding, Major General (RET) Johan Jooste and his colleagues.

Issued by:
South African National Parks (SANParks) Corporate Communications
Tel: 012 426 5170 

Ike Phaahla
Media Specialist SANParks
Tel: 012 426 5315; Cell: 083 673 6974