Bruce McDonald and the SAWC Air-wing team 

The SAWC Air-wing has had a relatively busy two months over the October-November period. There were 150 conservation hours flown with most of our efforts focused on rhino de-horning operations within the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) and other Private Nature Reserves. Rhino de-horning projects were conducted in the following reserves: 

  • Klaserie Private Nature Reserve 
  • Umbabat Private Nature Reserve 
  • Thornybush Game Reserve 
  • Karongwe Nature Reserve 
  • Kempiana SAWC property 
  • Blue Canyon Game Reserve 
  • Balule Private Nature Reserve 

Although rhino de-horning is not the solution to end the poaching scourge, it certainly has made a difference with a marked decline in poaching incidents over the past year, with some reserves not losing a single rhino to poachers in over two years. 

The question is often asked, why de-horn? In addition, does it really work? Well, the stats speak for themselves if one compares them to previous years. 

We know it is sometimes easy for people to decry the purposeful removal of a rhino’s most distinctive feature, but at the grassroots level, it is about survival. By dehorning rhinos, you’re reducing that incentive for poachers to come into reserves and protected areas, because effectively the reward that they’re going to get is much lower, or possibly zero, and yet they’re still incurring those same risks entering reserves and carrying out an illegal activity, and still obviously going against anti-poaching teams at a great risk of being caught.  

Many lessons have been learned as we continue developing techniques. Applying these learnings, the SAWC can successfully use the techniques tested for best practice to assist the conservation industry.  

Having a fixed-wing aircraft in the sky, locating and scouting for horned rhinos as well as providing an aerial control platform, saves hugely on time and costs with these operations. Having flown thousands of hours and de-horned close to 1000 rhinos over the past two years, working with professional vets and ground teams, the SAWC’s Air- wing operations have played an integral part in these operations. 

We also continue with routine patrols in the APNR and surrounding reserves. Rhino and elephant distribution data is collected on every patrol flight and is continually proving to be very useful to wardens and reserve managers for both conservation management as well as field ranger deployment.

Our Air-wing responded to a number of call-outs to poacher incursions and contacts. A fixed-wing aircraft plays a vital role in suppression in these follow-up operations, allowing the K9 units and field rangers to make successful arrests. 

We continue with our flight training programmes. Welkom Masukume, a student of the SAWC from Zimbabwe, started his training with us recently. We wish him everything of the best for his training next year. Two SANParks section rangers will commence flight training with us in 2023. 

To the donors who keep us flying we cannot thank you enough for all the support extended to us in 2022. It is you who continues to make our work possible. This includes Our Horn is Not Medicine donors, CR Sowry, Conserv Earth, Tusk Trust Wildlife Ranger Challenge, Friends of African Wildlife, WildArk and Big Game Heli Services. Special thanks to MyPlanet MyRhino for the recent support extended, which provides us with valuable flying hours. 

To the dedicated rangers, pilots and support units unselfishly giving of their time working over the festive season and going well-beyond the call of duty, we salute you. In addition, to their families whose lives have been become so disrupted and impacted by these ruthless and cruel poachers due to the contrasting nature of the rhino war, we are thinking of you and pray that your loved ones will be kept safe over this period. 

Wishing you all a safe and blessed Christmas.