The December/January/February period was an extremely busy period for the SAWC airwing, logging 103 flying hours for the December period and 100 hours for January. February although busy, was hampered with inclement weather conditions.
As predicted and which seems to be the trend nowadays, rhino poaching incidents spiked over the December-January period with a number of rhino losses incurred. Many of our flight missions were of a support role to poaching incursions and contacts over this period. Our role in fixed-wing support in counter-poaching has proved to be invaluable to these operations. Many of our operations were conducted working alongside our own SAWC K9 unit with great success.
It’s a proud moment when one has a success or poacher apprehension, working alongside our loyal colleagues and dogs on the ground. The SAWC has created a formidable and successful model in this arena which grows from strength to strength and has become a force to be reckoned with in this field.
Another sector that kept us busy was the ongoing rhino de-horning projects with private reserves in the Lowveld. Our de-horning operations were conducted in four private nature reserves in our focus area with great success. Although de-horning is not the silver bullet when it comes to rhino protection, it has certainly had a huge impact in curbing rhino poaching incidents in some reserves who have reported zero poaching since these measures have been implemented.
Another initiative which took place during the first quarter was the launch of our advanced handling bush flying course. This course is designed specifically for pilots flying light sport aircraft within the conservation industry. We had two students completing the course over this period; both will be flying in the conservation sector in Chad for African Parks. These courses have generated much interest from other parks in Africa and look to be popular in the future.
Another exciting development is our online aviation training programme through the SAWC. This online course was developed by Pierre Wilkinson who has joined Bruce McDonald on the aviation training side. Pierre comes with much experience, having been a senior instructor at a leading flight school as well as having an airline captain background. The course will be very useful for students in remote African countries, providing preliminary ground school based lectures on six modules of flight training, based on the standard SA Civil Aviation flight training curriculum. Students will be able to interact with instructors on a live webinar basis. Regular tests at the end of each module will allow progress and assessments of active students.
Our regular flight training continues with active students.
Future plans for the airwing include working alongside the SAWC’s Research and Development department with a number of new and exciting projects in the pipeline.
Sincere and heartfelt gratitude goes to all of our loyal donors who keep our pilots and aircraft in the sky, playing an increasingly valuable role in protecting our threatened heritage and iconic species such as our rhino.