Mission: iMfolozi Surveillance Mission
Date: 28 November 2008
Requesting organisation: iMfolozi Game Reserve
Location: iMfolozi Game Reserve, Kwazulu Natal
Pilot: Jose Lima (flying a Robbie 44 helicopter) and Paul Dutton (in his Piper Super Cub, Spirit of the Wilderness)
The Bateleurs responded to a call for assistance to fly the perimeter fence of the iMfolozi Game Reserve, to check out any poaching incursions whilst most, if not all, of its patrol staff were absent from their various out-posts attending a year-end function at the Mpilo camp. Bateleurs members Jose Lima (flying a Robbie 44 helicopter) and Paul Dutton (in his Piper Super Cub, Spirit of the Wilderness) flew the mission. While this was one of many Bateleurs flights for Paul, it was the inaugural Bateleurs flight for Jose.
“Having the helicopter with its ability to hover and land in tight places added great efficiency to the patrol as evidenced by Jose locating a stationary vehicle and people inside the reserve, immediately next to the game fence, in an area in which White Rhino are often encountered. Jose noted what looked like a blood-stained tarpaulin enclosing the back of a truck, and the scene had all the appearance of a poaching incident. We both returned to the airstrip from where Jose picked up ranger Sanmarie and three armed staff and flew back to investigate the vehicle. It turned out that the truck and its occupants were temporary workers clearing the invasive alien Chromalinaena plant while the “blood” was in fact the result of red herbicide spillage! Although we did not locate any poachers entering the Park on the day, it did indicate that having unattended casual staff free to move around the reserve evinced a serious lapse in the reserve’s security system.
Our flights made us realise how small and vulnerable iMfolozi is, with only a token security fence to protect a treasure far more valuable than all the bullion in the USA’s Fort Knox! Understandably, KZN conservation, and the iMfolozi and Hlhluwe Reserves in particular, does not have sufficient financial resources to beef up its security system to staunch the poaching of the two species of Rhino. Perhaps Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife could emulate the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, to which American multimillionaire Greg Carr has committed USD 30 million for rehabilitation. It may well be possible for Ezemvelo to exploit the precarious situation of its Rhino to attract the support of an American philanthropist who may be looking for ways to spend accumulated wealth. Human health gets its fair share of this source of wealth – why not the natural world too?
Ranger Sanmarie’s handling of the mission’s logistics, and her rapid response with her armed team to our report of a possible poaching incident was exemplary.”