Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Rhinos and many other wildlife species are often darted from a helicopter, mainly to be able to find them easier before and after darting. With dangerous species such a elephants and black rhinos it is also for safety reasons. The decision to rent a helicopter and a pilot (expensive rate per hour) depends on the terrain, the animal species, the size of the area and the situation. Most South African helicopter pilots have their own helicopter close to home and use it as a 'car'. In the wildlife season they are most of the time very busy, so each action must be well planned in advance. The shy and agressive black rhino must always be darted from an helicopter, mainly because they are too aggressive to approach and very difficult to find after darting. The more docile and grazing white rhino can most of the times be darted while tracked on foot in the bush (make sure you approach them in the wind: when they smell you they're gone!). But once they run away, what they often do after being hit by the dart, it can be difficult to find them again, especially in thick bush. A helicopter is often amazingly helpful. You won't believe me, but keeping track on a huge animal as a rhino can be tremendously difficult, even from the air. One day I had to keep an eye on a (not yet darted) white rhino for almost an hour from a helicopter to make sure we would not loose it. This was a nerve racking task and I could not believe how often we lost the animal out of sight, even under small trees. Somehow the colour grey works wonderful as a camouflage. Luckily we always found her back and we could dart her and reunion her with her calf. Thanks to the helicopter and of course the pilot! The skills of helicopter pilots specialized in wildlife capture are very impressive. They combine a thorough knowledge of wild animals, their specific behaviour (all animal species act different) and movements with amazing flying skills. Most of them probably were a raptor in their previous lifes. For example while darting wild elephants the helicopter pilot is essential to chase the not-darted elephants or other dangerous animals away and to keep an eye on the safety on the ground. Elephants often come back to help their family members, so it's vey dangerous to dart elephants without a helicopter. Also, large herds of various wildlife species, such as wildebeest and impalas are very often captured by only using a helicopter, as darting each individual animal is practically impossible. This exciting activity requires amazing flying skills to be able to guide a large herd of wild animals into a boma (large pen).