Dec. 10 - South Africa is taking to the skies in its fight against rhino poaching, with a hi-tech aircraft specially designed for the job. Rhino populations have been hit hard by illegal hunters in recent years and it's hoped the plane will help stabilise the species by detecting poachers before they strike. Jim Drury has more.
UPSOT: PLANE ON RUNWAY It's the latest weapon in South Africa's fight against rhino poaching. The Seeker aircraft is being deployed over the Kruger National Park, where most rhino killings take place. UPSOT: PLANE IN SKY Seeker's sophisticated heat sensors are designed to locate poachers before they can strike against the endangered species. National Parks CEO David Mabunda won't reveal much about its technical capabilities. He says it's essential to stay one step ahead of poaching gangs who are equipped with high-powered weapons, helicopters and night vision goggles. SOUNDBITE (English) SOUTH AFRICA NATIONAL PARKS, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, DAVID MABUNDA, SAYING: "The aircraft has an aerial capability to be able to attach whatever equipment that we need for specific times and specific purposes. It will gather intelligence, it will also assist us in terms of dealing with all the other channels of poaching that we might have so it's less noisy, nimble and quite agile." UPSOT: SOUND OF BOOTS ON LONG GRASS South Africa's army has been deployed to protect rhinos but has had little impact against international crime syndicates. A record 558 rhinos had already been killed by the start of December, almost a third of them in Kruger - a park roughly the same size as Israel. The rhino are killed for their horns, which sell as a traditional medicine in Asia at prices higher than gold. But there are high hopes for the aircraft. And soon, the effort will be reinforced by a fleet of drones, much like those now being deployed to protect rhino populations in Nepal. UPSOT: DRONE TAKING OFF AND PEOPLE CHEERING The drones fly autonomously around a pre-determined area sending a live video signal back to operators on the ground. With so many rhino being slaughtered, the stakes are high. But by taking control of the skies, conservationists in both countries hope they can take control of a crisis that's threatens the rhino with extinction. UPSOT: PLANE IN SKY