The Ichikowitz Family Foundation said the Task Force has been established in line with Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s commitment to address poaching in the country.
Parcs Gabon, the National Park Agency of Gabon, announced it will work with the Ichikowitz Family Foundation to capacitate the new Anti-Poaching Rapid Reaction Task Force, with the Foundation donating a Gazelle helicopter and pilot training, specialist ranger training and equipment for anti-poaching officers and the establishment of a canine training facility in Gabon.
Flight training will take place at Paramount’s flight academy in South Africa, with around half a dozen pilots being trained. Maintenance and technical support will be carried out by Paramount Aerospace.
Paramount’s canine training school has supplied two dogs and handlers to Gabon, with another six dogs scheduled to be sent to the West African nation. Two are part of a breeding pair and will be used to set up the canine school in Gabon, which will cater to the region.
Professor Lee White, Director of Parcs Gabon, said that poaching has become more violent and that ivory smuggling networks are run by organised criminals that also trade in drugs, human trafficking etc. He said Gabon has made strides in addressing poaching, with 750 personnel including 100 military personnel. Due to the increasingly violent nature of poaching, Parcs Gabon has had to give military training to its rangers as poachers will fire on sight, often with automatic weapons.
Parcs Gabon now has 150 vehicles, 35 boats and five aircraft, White said, and now a helicopter, which will be critical in driving the war against poaching. The Gazelle will be used for things like supporting rangers in the field – a ranger was recently shot in the leg and nearly died because he was in a remote location and it was difficult trying to get a military helicopter to airlift him out.
John Stephenson, CEO of Stop Ivory, the Joint Secretariat to the Elephant Protection Initiative, said that, “nearly 90 percent of Gabon consists of rainforest, which shelters close to a remarkable 60% of Africa’s remaining forest elephants – this means that Gabon has been a poaching hotspot for several years and so every effort made to protect this shrinking population is worth it.”
Gabon and four African nations in 2014 launched the Elephant Protection Initiative to preserve the continent’s elephant population after losing tens of thousands of animals. Gabon disposed of nearly five tonnes of ivory in 2012 and developed a National Elephant Action Plan to protect the animals.
Eric Ichikowitz, director of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, noted during the handover at Paramount’s Midrand facilities that poaching is the fourth most lucrative criminal activity in the world, with drugs being number one.
Ivor Ichikowitz, Founder of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, said that there is a link between crime and poaching, with terror activities around the world being funded by poaching. He said poaching is no longer a conservation issue but a threat to democracies. “This helicopter is only the beginning of our commitment to Lee and his remarkable organisation.”
Paramount has previous ties with Gabon, selling the country Maverick ten internal security vehicles ahead of it hosting the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament in 2012. The company also supplied six refurbished ex-South African Air Force Mirage F1 fighters to the country from 2006.