'Conservation Rambo's' request comes with catch

A Bantam microlight made in Hamilton. The model is soon to be manufactured by the Croydon...
A Bantam microlight made in Hamilton. The model is soon to be manufactured by the Croydon Aircraft Company in Mandeville, near Gore. Photo supplied.
The Croydon Aircraft Company, in Mandeville, near Gore, has been asked by a ''conservation Rambo'' in Zimbabwe to build two microlight aircraft for use detecting rhinoceros poachers.

But the order has come with a catch and left Croydon owner Colin Smith with a dilemma.

While he is willing to build the aircraft at cost, to support a good cause, there is only enough money from Zimbabwe for two-thirds of the $55,000 retail price of one aircraft.

He has approached the Otago Daily Times in the hope of finding ''a wee bit of local support'' to raise the shortfall of about $50,000.

''We are wondering if there is enough interest to get people to help ... to offset the cost of the aeroplanes.''

In 2012 - the worst year for poaching in decades - 588 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa's Kruger National Park alone.

Rhino poaching has soared because of the demand in Asia for ground-up rhino horn to be used as medicine.

''I think seven more were slaughtered last week. It's really quite sad what's happening,'' Mr Smith said recently.

One of those trying to stop the poaching in southern Africa is Damien Mander, an Australian who has featured in the National Geographic magazine and been described in an Australian television current affairs programme as a ''conservation Rambo''.

While Mr Mander did not respond to ODT emails, Mr Smith believes he is a bona fide anti-poaching campaigner.

''The article in the National Geographic is quite dramatic really.''

The magazine described Mr Mander as a ''a hard-muscled former Australian Special Forces sniper with an imposing menagerie of tattoos, including `Seek & Destroy' in Gothic lettering across his chest''.

He trains and equips Zimbabweans to hunt rhino poachers.

Mr Smith's company became involved when Mr Mander approached it for a Micro Aviation B22 Bantam.

His company has recently bought Micro Aviation, of Hamilton - the country's biggest aircraft manufacturer - and is preparing to manufacture the Micro Aviation B22 Bantam microlight in Mandeville.

Mr Smith says the Bantam is renowned for being safe, stable and relatively cheap to operate.

Micro Aviation was founded by Max Clear and has produced more than 300 aircraft. Mr Clear died in 2011.

- mark.price@odt.co.nz

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