British based charity the Born Free Foundation has launched an appeal to fund high-flying autogyros to be used as the latest weapon in the fight against poachers in Africa.
The updated version of the one flown by Sean Connery’s 007 in You Only Live Twice, known as Dragons, will give rangers a boost in tackling the criminal gangs killing 55 elephants every day and driving the iconic animals towards extinction.
Purchasing a Dragon GBT 1170 autogyro and training its pilot costs an eye-watering £50,000, but the benefit of being able to gather vital intelligence by air in a fraction of the time it would take by foot would be priceless.
The Born Free Foundation hopes the Dragon autogyros fitted with live-tracking technology, infra-red optics and secure video/voice communications to liaise with on-the-ground rangers will give rangers vital air superiority in key wildlife zones.
Dragons have the ability to take off in an area the size of a small garden, fly quietly and safely at low speeds, as well as carrying an observer along with the pilot.
For this project, the Born Free Foundation have teamed up with Staffordshire-based Chimera Aviation to launch its first “dragons of the sky” in South Africa with plans to expand the project to other countries, including Kenya.
The charity’s chief executive Howard Jones explained: “We are hoping that with public backing we can prove this method of poaching reduction is effective, and roll out the Dragon initiative in 10 other key areas of Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia within the next 12 months, and provide training for all local pilots and rangers.”
Autogyros came to the public’s attention more than 50 years ago when Sean Connery took to the skies in one, named Little Nellie, kitted out with assorted gadgetry by Q.
Since then, special forces around the world have used the light aircraft in covert operations and three years ago, a pilot achieved the highest altitude for an autogyro, reaching more than 26,000ft.
Next week’s Illegal Wildlife Trade summit in London, which prince William discussed with President Kenyatta during their recent meeting, will show a growing global appetite to bring an end to the estimated £15.5billion a year criminal enterprises decimating the wildlife populations in Africa.
It’s not just the animals at risk either, with just under 900 rangers killed over the last ten years.
For more information and to support this conservation initiative, please visit the Born Free Foundation website.