Every swipe counts: KNP welcomes new aircraft

Steven Whitfield, the pilot responsible for piloting the new aircraft and project.

SATARA – A brand-new Foxbat A22LS aircraft arrived in the Kruger National Park (KNP) this week to help in the war on rhino poaching.

The decentralised aerial capacity which the new Foxbat provides is pivotal in this struggle, said the pilot responsible for piloting the new aircraft and project, Marula North regional ranger Steven Whitfield.

The cost-effective Foxbat will play an essential role in monitoring rhinos, identifying and responding to threats, and ensure that Kruger’s anti-poaching unit is better equipped when it comes to combating increasingly sophisticated gangs of rhino poachers.

“Aircraft have become irreplaceable assets enabling quick response and support to poaching incidents,” he said.

“We can be more successful with the deployment of aircraft piloted by rangers over the vastness of Kruger. They are vital for combating poaching on many levels, improving monitoring, identifying high-risk areas, patrolling remote areas inaccessible by vehicle and foot, and enhancing our rapid detection and response capabilities as poaching trends shift.”

The aircraft was donated by the MyPlanet Rhino Fund and financed by 34 000 supporters swiping their MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet cards at participating retailers. The fund has announced this donation after R2,8 million was raised over the past year.

Since last year, the MyPlanet Rhino Fund, which is administered by the Endangered Wildlife Trust, has donated more than R3,5 million to nine different non-profit organisations engaged in rhino conservation.

More than R1,4 million was allocated to SANParks and specifically the KNP enabling them to buy the light aircraft.

The Foxbat will be based at Satara, in a newly built hangar that was jointly funded between MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet and StopRhinoPoaching.com.

“This will greatly enhance the air wing capability in this region of the KNP,” said Elise Serfontein, founding director of StopRhinoPoaching.com. “The construction demonstrates what can be achieved with the collaborative effort of organisations working together.”

Also read about other aircraft in use in the park.

Conservationist and MyPlanet Rhino Fund ambassador Braam Malherbe was also present at the handover ceremony.

“It is incredible for citizen-driven fund-raising to result in the much-needed donation of a state-of-the-art aircraft,” he said.

“This is the proof that each person’s seemingly small contribution to conservation can result in a big impact. I am proud to see how my partnership with MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet makes a real difference, not only as an ambassador, but as an individual shopper. I encourage many more South African shoppers to join us.”

This was echoed by MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet general manager, Pieter Twine. “Supporters of the MyPlanet Rhino Fund can feel very proud of themselves. For 21 years we have been raising funds for schools and charities, and over the past seven years South African shoppers have stood up for rhinos as a national icon. Their support is phenomenal, and an inspiration to others who also want to play a part in protecting these fantastic animals which are an integral part of our national heritage.”

The MyPlanet Rhino Fund has also made donations of over R500 000 each to the rhino conservation initiatives of Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape and the Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust in the North-West. Balule Nature Reserve in Limpopo has received R371 400 in support of its K9 anti-poaching and community outreach initiatives.

Education and the development of future conservation leaders are other important elements in sustaining the country’s efforts to protect rhinos. This year, the MyPlanet Rhino Fund is continuing its support of the Lapalala Wilderness School and Rhino Revolution’s Green Kidz programmes which raise awareness and involve the youth from vulnerable communities in rhino conservation education. Effective rhino conservation also demands the optimal use of data, and the remaining 2018 funds have been allocated to Endangered Wildlife Trust and Southern African Wildlife College projects that are focused on improving data analysis and developing a software tool to facilitate greater information sharing, gathering and reporting.

Any person can sign up for a free MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet card and make MyPlanet Rhino Fund a beneficiary. Every time the card is swiped at the till point of a participating retailer, they make a donation on the customer’s behalf, at no cost to the customer.

Go to www.myschool.co.za or visit your app store to download the free mobile app and sign up for your MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet card, choose the MyPlanet Rhino Fund as the cause you wish to support and raise funds to protect rhinos.

  AUTHOR
Mariana Balt
Environmental Journalist

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