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Sun Aug 30 11:55:26 SAST 2015

Chopper drones taking aim at rhino poachers

DAVID MACGREGOR | 21 May, 2013 00:56
A Rhino walks through grassland. File photo
Image by: Daniel Born

A Port Alfred family has splashed out millions on hi-tech helicopter drones to try to save the African rhino from poachers.

What started out as a fun idea by businessman Anton Kieser to attach a digital camera to his remote-controlled helicopter has turned into a R3-million investment with brother Leon and father Kees.

The equipment, which includes imported drones and thermal imaging cameras, will be tested at local game reserves.

Although other anti-poaching initiatives in South Africa are also using unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drones to try and save the rhino from extinction, they are using less manoeuvrable planes, not helicopters.

"We bought all this hi-tech equipment to try and combat rhino poaching before they are all gone," Anton explained.

"It is a big investment, but is also well worth it - we want to use drone technology to position ourselves at the forefront of the fight against rhino poaching."

Kieser said his family was particularly moved by the ruthless poaching of three rhino at nearby Kariega Game Reserve a year ago.

One rhino, Thandi, survived despite having her horn hacked off.

He said fitting rhino with satellite tracking devices would make it easier to work out where they were in a game park - and protect them from poachers.

For the past two weeks, US-based drone expert David Dilling has been on the Sunshine Coast teaching the Kiesers how to operate the sophisticated equipment during day and night flights.

The deal to purchase the drones had to be approved by the US defence department - who also did background checks - to prevent them being used for terrorist activities.

The drones are similar to those used by US border patrols and police departments.

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